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What Happens When You Take Expired Pain Pills?

expired pain pills

What Happens When You Take Expired Pain Pills? Risk Factors, Abuse & Safety Precautions

Can Expired Pain Pills Be Harmful?

You have more than likely heard many warnings about not taking pills past the expiration date, but you’ve probably also wondered what happens when you take expired pain pills. Why the warnings? What are the reasons you’re not supposed to take expired pills?

There are common reasons many people take expired pills even when they’ve heard warnings against it. One reason is because of negligence, but it also may be due to the high cost of prescription medicine, a lack of insurance or they simply aren’t educated on reasons why they shouldn’t.

Why do medications have expiration dates?

It turns out that the expiration date on a drug does stand for something, but probably not what you think it does. Since a law was passed in 1979, drug manufacturers are required to stamp an expiration date on their products. This is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug.

expired pain pills
There are common reasons many people take expired pills even when they’ve heard warnings against it.

Most of what is known about drug expiration dates come from a study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at the request of the military. With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. What they found from the study is that 90% of more than 100 drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.

So, the expiration date doesn’t indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use. Medical authorities state if expired medicine is safe to take, even those that expired years ago. A rare exception to this may be tetracycline, but the report on this is controversial among researchers.

The effectiveness of a drug may indeed decrease over time, but much of the original potency remains even a decade after the expiration date. Excluding nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics, most medications are as long-lasting as the ones tested by the military. Placing a medication in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, will help a drug remain potent for many years.

Is the expiration date a marketing ploy by drug manufacturers, to keep you restocking your medicine cabinet and their pockets regularly? You can look at it that way. Or you can also look at it this way: The expiration dates are very conservative to ensure you get everything you paid for. And if a drug manufacturer had to do expiration-date testing for longer periods it would slow their ability to bring you new and improved formulations.

The next time you face the drug expiration date dilemma, consider what you’ve learned here. If the expiration date passed a few years ago and your drug must be absolutely 100% effective, you might want to consider buying a new bottle. And if you have any questions about the safety or effectiveness of any drug, ask your pharmacist. He or she is a great resource when it comes to getting more information about your medications.

Are expired pain pills safe to take?

Before you can understand what happens when you take expired pills, you should know why these dates or warnings are put on both prescription and non-prescription medicines.

First, all drugs have unique formulations that outline both their active and inactive ingredients. These formulations are how medicines are effective in treating certain diseases, conditions, and symptoms. When a drug is developed, manufacturers outline something called the shelf-life. Drug shelf-life refers to the length of time a drug can be used without deterioration. This includes looking at effectiveness and safety within a given period.

The FDA started requiring that expiration dates be issued for both prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the late 1970s. When you use a medicine within its outlined shelf life, and of course, as directed, it will maintain its maximum effectiveness and safety level. Another word for effectiveness in this context is efficacy. This indicates the ability of a drug to create a certain result. The higher the efficacy level of a drug, the better the results. If you take a drug that isn’t at its maximum efficacy level, it can lead to a lack of treatment regarding symptoms for which the drug was prescribed.

expired pain pills
The effectiveness of a drug may indeed decrease over time, but much of the original potency remains even a decade after the expiration date.

Safety Issues of Expired Pain Pills

Along with how well a drug will work, something else to consider within the context of medication expiration is its safety. The chemical and physical elements of a drug can change over time, which can lead to safety issues. There are often physical signs of these changes, such as discoloration of expired medicine.

It’s really difficult to determine whether or not an expired medicine is safe, so medical professionals recommend never using them, because of the risk of the unknown.

Expired Pain Pills Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is at an all-time high in the United States, and keeping unused and expired medicines such as Xanax or opioids, can lead to an increased likelihood of abuse of these drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warns that many abused prescription drugs that ultimately lead to accidental overdoses and addiction are obtained from friends and family.

Along with the risk of someone taking these unused drugs, when you have expired drugs around your home, there is an increased likelihood of children or pets taking them, which can lead to serious side effects or death.

Taking Expired Xanax

When people are wondering what happens when you take expired pills, one of the most common drugs they’re referring to is Xanax. With Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, people will often give or sell their unused pills to friends or family members, and if they’re expired, it can be problematic.

First, prescription medicines like Xanax are only guaranteed safe and effective up to the expiration date that’s listed. Also, you should realize that anytime you’re taking Xanax without a prescription, that’s considered abuse of the drug. Of course, expired Xanax or any expired pills may still be safe, but they may not be, so it’s not a risk worth taking.

Commonly Misused Prescription Drugs

  • Opioids: are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. All opioids are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken differently or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to addiction, overdose incidents, and deaths.
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin): is commonly sold under the brand name OxyContin. It’s also sold in combination with acetaminophen as Percocet. It changes how your central nervous system (CNS) responds to pain. Like heroin, it creates a euphoric, sedative effect. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 58.8 million prescriptions for oxycodone were dispensed in the United States in 2013.
  • Codeine: is typically prescribed to treat mild to moderate pain. It’s also combined with other medications to treat cold and flu symptoms. For example, it’s commonly found in prescription-strength cough syrup. When consumed in high quantities, codeine-based cough syrup has a sedative effect. It can also cause altered levels of consciousness. It provides the base for an illicit drug concoction known as “purple drank,” “sizzurp,” or “lean.” This concoction also contains soda and sometimes candy.
  • Fentanyl: is a synthetic opioid. It’s prescribed for acute and chronic pain, typically in people with cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It creates feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Fentanyl is also illegally manufactured and sold as an illicit recreational drug. In many cases, it’s mixed with heroin, cocaine, or both. In October 2017, the CDC reported that fentanyl is involved in over half of opioid-related overdose deaths across 10 states. In addition to the common signs and symptoms associated with opioid misuse, fentanyl misuse may also lead to hallucinations and bad dreams.
  • Meperidine (Demerol): is a synthetic opioid. It’s often sold under the brand name Demerol. It’s typically used to treat moderate to severe pain. Like other opioids, it produces feelings of euphoria.

According to the CDC, 2,666 Americans died in 2011 from drug poisoning that involved opioid painkillers other than methadone, such as meperidine or fentanyl.

Disposing of Expired Pain Pills

Rather than wondering what happens when you take expired pills, it’s often best to just go ahead and dispose of out-of-date drugs. The FDA recommends that you take certain steps to dispose of drugs properly when they expire:

  • The first is to check the label of the medication to determine if there are any specific instructions for disposal.
  • If there aren’t specific instructions, there are many government-operated drug take-back programs that are publicly available.
  • If you can’t find one of these programs in your area, you can throw medicine in the trash, but try to mix it with something like coffee grounds before throwing it away.
  • Also, before you do dispose of expired pills, check to make sure that the FDA doesn’t classify them as drugs that should be flushed rather than thrown out.

Ultimately, taking expired pills can be risky. With drugs like Xanax that have a high potential for abuse, it’s particularly important to dispose of expired pills, because you’re helping prevent potential abuse of the drug by the people around you who could have access to it. If you’re ever unsure about medicine or what to do when it’s expired, contact your physician for advice.

expired pain pills
Prescription medicines like Xanax are only guaranteed safe and effective up to the expiration date that’s listed.

Reclaim Your Life From Pain Pills Abuse

Pain Pills Addiction is a chronic disease that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up rehab treatment & detox center can provide you, or someone you love, with the tools to recover from Pain Pills Addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.