Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: Drug expiration dates

On call

Drug expiration dates

Q. My husband subscribes to Harvard Men's Health Watch, but I read it and like it as much as he does. Since he listens to your advice, I hope you can resolve a problem that worries me. My husband refuses to throw out pills that are past their expiration dates. I never keep foods longer than I should, so I hope you'll convince him to clean out the medicine closet the way I take care of the fridge and pantry.

A. Your question poses a challenge to both diplomacy and science. Although there is relatively little scientific data about outdated medication, it seems diplomatic and accurate to say that you are both likely to be right. Keep policing your foods, but cut your husband a little slack about his pills.

Expiration dates for medicines are established by law, not science. In general, drug companies give their products an expiration date two to three years from the date they're manufactured. But when your pharmacist opens the bulk container and repackages the medications for your use, he labels your bottle with an expiration date that's usually one year from the day your prescription is filled.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »