In the corner of my bedroom, I have a small camphor wood chest. It originally belonged to my husband’s grandmother and was taken to the UK by his uncle from Malaya where he did his National Service in around 1948. To this day when it is opened, there is a slight smell of camphor, which is pleasant as it clears the head and is quite appropriate as I use it as a first aid box.
With a splitting headache, I reached into the box for some Panadol only to find they had passed their expiry date two years ago. Do I take them or don’t I? If I do, will it be a fatal mistake? I am not a great tablet taker so decided to forego the risk, but there was the niggle at the back of my mind that if I had decided to take the tablets nothing bad would have happened other than I would have simply continued to suffer from the headache.
Being a bit of a hoarder, once the headache had cleared, I thought I would check the dates of the products I had in the chest. The contact lenses were fine as were the bandages and Elastoplasts. I was shocked though when I saw that the eardrops, like the eye ointment had ran out in 2009 – fortunately, both were for dogs rather than people and had not been needed. The indigestion tablets were only 6 months out of date and the throat tablets had a month left before they expired.
I don´t know what made me do it, I am not normally so penny pinching, but I decided to check how safe they were on the internet before throwing them straight in the bin. It turns out that the expiry date is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency of the drug. Tests have shown that 90% of both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, with a couple of exceptions such as insulin and liquid antibiotics, are perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.
So next time you face the drug expiry dilemma consider, is it important that your drug is absolutely 100% effective, and you need to buy a new bottle, or is the date just a marketing ploy to get you to restock your cabinet and the manufacturers’ pockets regularly? The decision is of course yours but I decided to stick with what I had and not replace until I have run out. So far, I am still here to tell the tale!