Can You Use Expired Medications?

Dietrich Easter

Have you ever looked at a bottle of medications and saw that the medications were expired? Maybe you wondered if it was safe to use those medications. Some people have expired medications lying around, such as an Epi-pen, or Narcan, and ask the question: is it safe to use these medications? Let's talk about it. 

In general, you should always avoid using expired medications. Do your best to check the expiration date on your medications and ensure that you replace them regularly, so they are ready to go. There are some instances where using an expired emergency medication would be better than nothing, but this should generally be avoided. 

In the next sections, we'll unpack the dangers of using expired medications, when it might be worth a try, and when it can be dangerous. 

Why You Shouldn't Use Expired Medications 

Getting in the habit of using expired medications is not good. There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you roll the dice and try to use bad medications. In this section, we'll talk about some of those dangers!

Notes: This article is not meant to be medical advice. Always consult with a physician when it comes to medications. Misuse of medications can be deadly! Information in the medical community is constantly being researched, updated, and changed. 

Here are several reasons you shouldn't use expired medications: 

  • Using expired medications can create legal liabilities 
  • There's no guarantee the medication will work 
  • There can be other dangers involved 

  • Now let's look at these reasons in more depth. 


    Using Expired Medications Can Create Legal Liabilities 

    If you're a medical professional, then you should never even consider using expired medications. Why? Several reasons. 

    For one, using an expired medication will open you up for liability. This happens in several ways. Let's consider giving an emergency medication. If the medication doesn't work, the patient could have a negative outcome. In this case, there would be nothing stopping the patient from pursuing litigation against the medical provider who administered the expired medication. They will likely argue that they could have had a better outcome if the expired medication had not been used. 

    In a second scenario, let's consider a patient who doesn't require emergency care. You might be giving this patient simple medication. However, if you give an expired medication, the patient could argue that the expired medication caused a negative outcome, thus opening yourself up to litigation. 

    So what can you do to protect yourself? If you're a medical professional, always make sure that you have in-date medications for use. Also, before you give a medication, be sure to check the medication and look at the physical fluid/tablet before administering it. If the medication looks normal, you should be good to go. 

    After you give a medication, it is always a best practice to document that the medication was in date, and that it was properly administered. Sometimes, you'll hear about the 6 patient rights of medication administration. Make sure you follow all of them. 

    Now, for non-medical professionals, let's talk about another reason to avoid expired medications. 

    There are No Guarantees the Expired Medication Will Work 

    There are a few reasons people will use expired medications. One of those reasons includes financial hardship. When someone doesn't have the money to pay for new medications, they are more likely to try using old medications from a friend or to use expired medications that they have in storage. 

    What's the problem here? Well, the obvious thing is that the medication might not work! This is especially important when it comes to lifesaving medications, such as blood pressure meds or meds for diabetics. 

    If you're having trouble paying for medications, you should consider talking with your health care provider or local pharmacy. Let them know that you're looking for ways to obtain the same medication for cheaper. It might seem intuitive, but a lot of people don't take the time to ask for a deal. If you don't ask, you'll never get it! 

    Note: You might have well-meaning friends or family try to give you your old medications. There are a few reasons you should avoid this. For one, there's no guarantee that the medications they give you are actually the meds they say they are. 

    In many cases, people will place old medications into no bottles (and then forget that they did). The second reason you should avoid taking someone's old medications is that they might not be in a dose that's safe for you. Doctors often prescribe a medication dose that is specific to a person's body - you don't want to risk overdosing!  

    There Can Be Dangers Involved in Taking Old Expired Medications 

    Taking old medications carries numerous risks. For the average person (who doesn't have a medical background), it can be very difficult to tell if a medication is safe to use. Think about old food: do you want to eat old cheese? How about old ham? Not only will this food taste bad, but it could make you even sicker! 

    Now, medications don't usually mold like food, but that doesn't mean an old medication couldn't be harmful. For this reason, it's a good idea to avoid taking a drug that is outdated. If you're unsure if a drug is in date, stay on the safe side and avoid taking it. 

    Now, we've harped on avoiding using expired medications, but there are some instances when you might consider it. Let's talk about it. 

    Should You Ever Administer an Expired Medication in an Emergency? 

    Certainly, you should always try to use medications that are in-date. But what happens if you're in an emergency scenario? For instance, what happens if you have someone in front of you who you think has overdosed on a narcotic? Can you still give them Narcan even if it's expired? That's what we're going to talk about in these next sections. 

    Remember, we are speaking to non-medical providers. Medical providers should always have non-expired medications ready to use. Using an expired med, even in an emergency scenario, can open medical providers up for litigation. 

    Here are a few times people consider using expired meds: 

  • Epinephrine (Epi-pen) 
  • Narcan
  • Other Critical meds (in a survival situation)

  • In the next section, we'll go into more details. If you're curious, watch this video on the shelf-life of meds.

    Can You Use an Expired Epi-Pen? 

    Epinephrine is commonly stored as an Epi-pen auto-injector. The epi-pen is used on people who are having severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). If you find someone in anaphylaxis, is it okay to use an expired epi-pen? There are many people who would say that it's at least worth a try to use an expired epi-pen during anaphylaxis. 

    There is no guarantee that the epi-pen will work, but since the person could die without the medication, it's often at least worth the try. I have personally seen situations where an expired epi-pen reversed an anaphylactic reaction. Again, use at your own risk, but those are some thoughts.

    Be sure to get trained in how to recognize an anaphylactic reaction and how to use an epi-pen properly. Now let's talk about another lifesaving medication that is becoming a lot more popular. 

    Can You Use Expired Narcan? 

    Narcan has become very popular in recent years. Many times, Narcan is given without a prescription. If you're not familiar, Narcan is a drug that reverses the action of opiate narcotics, such as heroin, morphine, and fentanyl. 

    Narcan is often given via syringe into the nostril. When would you give it? You would give Narcan to a person who is found to have inadequate breathing and any sign of an overdose. But now for the big question: should you administer Narcan even if it's expired? 

    If someone is having a true overdose (and they are not breathing adequately), then it's probably worth it to try Narcan even if the medication is expired. This is not ideal, but if they truly are not breathing then they could die within minutes! 

    If the expired Narcan does not work, be prepared to help the person breathe with rescue ventilation and to call 911 (you would call 911 regardless). Rescue breathing can save their life even if the Narcan doesn't work! 

    Now, let's go over one more time you might consider using an expired medication. 

    Can You Use Expired Meds During a Survival Situation? 

    Some people wonder if it's okay to save expired medications in case of a survival situation. This might be a scenario where the supply chain is disrupted and so you are unable to resupply your normal round of medications. If disaster strikes, is it okay to use expired medications? 

    The answer: weigh the consequences and use expired medications at your own risk. If you're in a situation where you think help is many days, weeks, or even months away, then you will have to consider what's best for you and your family. You should not rely on expired medications (they may not work anyway), but you should consider the pros and cons. 

    In some cases, people find the benefit of using expired meds during a survival situation outweighs the risks. 

    Now for a few final words. 

    Conclusion: Why You Should Avoid Using Expired Medications 

    It's best to avoid using expired medications. With that said, there are nuances involved. If you're a non-professional medical person, you might consider administering expired epi-pens or Narcan if you believe the benefit outweighs the risks. 

    Also, consider how long the medication has been expired. Ten years is much different than ten minutes. Finally, do your best to stay on top of medication so that you're never put in a situation where you have to use an expired medication. 

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