Medicine Expiration Dates: Just how Important Are They?
All over the world, this topic has proved controversial. While we all want to be healthy without the help of prescription medications, some of us need to take them on a daily basis. Just like food, medicines have expiration dates, but how many of us check them? And is it that important? We interviewed the Executive Manager of Hamad Medical Corporation Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Department, Dr. Mouza Al Hail, to find out more.
- We know that not all drugs actually expire on the dates printed, so which ones definitely need to be thrown out?
- Can prescription drugs be taken together?
- Which drugs should be avoided without a doctor’s prescription?
- What can be taken to help the absorption of medicines?
- Is it important to take medicines at the same time every day?
- Do you have a record system to check patients’ medicine allergies?
- What might happen if you consume expired medication?
- Can medication become toxic after expiration?
It is not believed that expired medication can become toxic, there is no good scientific evidence supporting this claim. However, we advise everyone to avoid using expired medication.
- Some people state that when you refrigerate or freeze medication, it lasts longer. Is that true?
To answer this question, you must look at two different point of views, one is that of international health organizations and the other is the point of view of scientists and researchers. International health organizations say that medication should not be used or consumed after the expiration date specified by the manufacturers, as the companies measure how long the medication can last in its optimal stage from production to expiration date and not further. Furthermore, the optimal effectiveness of medication is achieved when 90-100% of the full quantity in a pack is taken. The other point of view is that most medications remain effective and safe to use for a period after the expiration date. However, this period varies from medication to medication. The agreed procedure in Qatar and internationally is not using or consuming medication after the expiration date set by the manufacturing company. Using medication after the expiration date is then the patient’s decision. In some specialized and exceptional cases, for example when a particular medication is no longer available, or in disasters or epidemics, expired drugs can be used—this is called “expiration date extension.”
The vast majority of medications can be consumed together. However, of course, some medications must never be taken together. It would be difficult to go through all of them now, but a few examples are: consuming medications with anything prescribed for stomach acidity greatly affects the absorption of the medication and decreases the chances of it reaching the blood, which in turn decreases the medication’s effect. Another example is Thyroxin (used to treat low thyroid function), which must not be mixed with iron compounds as this results in it not being absorbed by the body. It is important to point out that some medications decrease the effectiveness of others consumed at the same time, which leads to the treatment failing entirely, or on the other hand increase the dosage and effectiveness of the medication to a poisonous level which can harm the patient. Therefore, it is essential that a certified pharmacist give the patient guidance and advice on how to use the medication, and the side effects, interventions, and chemical reactions that may occur, as well as the best way to store the medicine.
Nations specify what medication should not be obtained without a doctor’s prescription, and which can be accessed after consulting a pharmacist. A doctor should always be consulted when taking any medication or when feeling under the weather, to ensure the correct prescription for the ailment. We always advise patients have a proper medical consultation and a doctor’s prescription before heading to the pharmacy. That said, patients can ask their pharmacist directly about some medications for the treatment of common colds, coughs, and headaches. The pharmacist must also make sure that the aliment does not require immediate medical treatment or a doctor’s consultation, and check whether the patient has any chronic diseases, is using any other medications or has any allergies to medications. Aspirin, profene, and voltarine are some of the few medications sold over the counter but which can be dangerous as they accentuate asthma symptoms and can cause a severe asthma attack.
First of all, it is always a good idea to take medication with plenty of water, so that it may dissolve and be absorbed into the blood stream. Consuming medication with food or straight after can have many benefits, for example reducing the feeling of nausea that happens when taking medication like lubyorinol, used to treat gout. This can also reduce stomach irritation caused by medications like aspirin. Some medication are better absorbed with food, like antiviruses. Certain types of food can help the body absorb medication. For example, grysovolfein, the medication that is widely used to treat fungus or fungal infections, can be better absorbed when taken with high-fat food. But that isn’t always the case. For example, Azthromaison, a type of antibiotic, can be better absorbed if it is taken on an empty stomach. The absorption of iron is improved when taken with vitamin C or vitamin C rich drinks.
Yes! It is very important to stick to what is prescribed in terms of dosage and time, so that the patient may benefit from the effectiveness of the medicine. Scheduling taking the dosage at the same time allows for the continuation of the effectiveness of the medicine and its concentration in the body. For example, not taking antibiotics at the same time each day can decrease the concentration of the antibiotic in the blood stream, which can then lead to the patient not healing. What’s more, the microbes in the body can develop antibodies to counteract the effect of the antibiotic, leading to the patient needing new and different antibiotics.
Yes. During the patient’s first visit to the hospital, the doctor carries out an evaluation and takes down all the patient’s information, including any allergies to medications. It is then put into an informational system for medical records and this information is made available to the physician and the pharmacist, as well as the nurses. When any medical prescription is sent to the pharmacist, he does what is called a “medical prescription fact-check” and this includes making sure the patient has no allergies to any of the medication prescribed. The information is updated every time the patient visits the hospital or the emergency room.
Consuming expired medication does not cause any health concerns or dangers. The medication will simply not have the desired and usual effect. When expired, medication becomes less effective, so it simply will not work to heal the patient and may extend their period of recovery. However, there are a few exceptions; some medications evolve into harmful chemical compounds once they expire. An example of this is anything with tatriscleen.
Medication must be stored and kept under suitable circumstances to guarantee its quality and effectiveness. Different medications have different storage requirements. This is clarified on the packaging. Most medications fall into two storage categories, either at room temperature or in the fridge or freezer. Storage may also depend on usage, before or after usage. For example, insulin must be refrigerated before use, but as the patient uses it, it can be stored at room temperature. Another example is antibiotics given orally or that come in powder form—these can be stored at room temperature, but once prepared with water, need to be kept in the fridge. We must also know that storing medication incorrectly can lower their effectiveness—for example, storing insulin in the freezer. This is all information that must be provided by the pharmacist to patients so they know the perfect way to store their medication.