Think back to the last time you bought that large supply of ‘zomalart’ or any other drug for that matter. The rep promised you would sell out fast. That the pharmacy opposite you is selling it in buckets. He throws in a sweet 20% discount to entice you even more. You give in and buy 2 cartons. ‘It will move like the rep said it would’, you tell yourself.
After a while, this doesn’t happen. The drugs don’t move and they stay on your shelves gathering dust. Very soon the expiration date for the drug arrives and you have no other choice than to go through the painful process of discarding your large supply of now expired drugs.
What if you didn’t have to discard the drugs, what if it turns out that drug expiration dates are largely arbitrary and drugs are still quite potent long beyond its expiry date. Well, this is what Roy Gerona, an American based researcher who specializes in analyzing chemicals found. Ray, who is originally from the Philipines had had previous experience of seeing people get better after taking expired medications. He was approached by a pharmacist and toxicologist who had happened upon unopened medications that were 30 to 40 years old. Excited to find out how potent these drugs would be long after their expiry date, they carried out a series of tests.
They tested bottles containing over 14 different compounds, including antihistamines, pain relievers, and stimulants. All the drugs tested were in their original sealed containers. They were both surprised to find that 12 of the 14 compounds were still as potent as they were when first manufactured some at almost 100 percent of their labeled concentrations.
As it turns out, many active pharmaceutical ingredients are pretty stable. This calls into question the standard practice of giving medications a general expiry date of 2 – 3 years after it’s manufactured. This practice leads to wastage amounting to millions of dollars in the U.S and millions of Naira in Nigeria. In our resource poor setting where people have limited access to medications, is it worth considering extending the shelf life of certain medications? It would certainly help pharmacists in the community be under less pressure over their inventory.
So, Should we ignore Drug expiry dates or at the very least spread dates out to much longer than is currently obtainable. This research seems to suggest it would not be dangerous to. Afterall, there doesn;t appear to be any published report of people suffering adverse effects from expired medications. This is certainly food for thought for pharmacists and NAFDAC.
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This post is adapted from ‘the myth of drug expiration dates’, first published on Propublica, a U.S based investigative journalism outfit.