Did you know India is the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’? How? Well, because the generic Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers are able to produce medicines that are patented elsewhere. This is what makes India a haven for affordable medicines. Also, we are the world’s fourth largest producer of pharmaceuticals by volume – accounting for around eight per cent of the global pharmaceutical production.
Now that we have told you the facts, let us face the reality. Our primary health services are very poor despite the availability of cheap medicines – and expired medicines are a perennial issue. We have all heard horror stories revolving around the use of expired vaccinations. The latest news came in from Uttar Pradesh (UP) where, according to media reports, the Union government had supplied expired anti-encephalitis vaccines to the rural health centres. A few months ago, slum dwellers in Chandigarh staged a dharna reportedly after ‘expired’ swine flu vaccines were administered to them. Many more reports tell us the same dreaded story.
Actually, come to think of it. What do we know about the expiry of medicines? Do all medicines expire? Does their use become fatal after expiry? Take a peek into your medicine cabinet/box while we give you this checklist for home drugs.
Medicines, as we all understand, have unique formulations designed to treat specific diseases. They consist of active and inactive ingredients. Once a drug is developed, manufacturers
determine the time period within which the drug will remain potent without deteriorating. This is known as the drug’s shelf-life. Used within its shelf-life, the drug ensures maximum efficacy and safety. Efficacy is important as it reflects the ability of the drug to produce the desired effect.
Post this time period, the drug is said to ‘expire’. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched the Shelf Life Extension Program in 1985 to determine whether the US military’s massive stockpile of expired drugs had become ineffective. The study, first made public by the Wall Street Journal in 2000, showed that 90 per cent of drugs maintained stability well past their expiration dates – their chemical constituents did not degrade or change substantially. Some drugs were good for a decade after expiring. According to the Harvard Medical School (HMS), in most instances, expired medications are safe but may not be as effective or potent past their expiration date.
SO, ARE ALL MEDICINES STILL GOOD YEARS AFTER THEIR EXPIRATION DATE?
No. Drugs, such as tetracycline, insulin, nitroglycerin and certain antibiotics need to be used by their expiration date. The epinephrine in EpiPen injections – used to treat severe allergic reactions – should also not be used after its expiration date.
According to Johns Hopkins and Columbia University, stocks of prescription medications (versus over-the-counter drugs) should be kept fresh as their dosage and strength are important to specific conditions.
HOW TO STORE YOUR MEDICINES
Proper storage of medicines is the most critical factor in long-term safety and potency of a medicine. The best place to store medications to maintain their integrity is in cool, dark
and dry places like the refrigerator because heat, humidity and direct light are damaging.
So, no, the bathroom closet isn’t the best place to keep your medicines. Neither is the kitchen drawer. Also, don’t mix different drugs in one container, and make sure all caps and lids are securely sealed.
In general, pills and capsules are more stable than drugs in liquid form, but if pills have turned powdery, are discoloured or have a strong smell, they should be discarded.