It was nice and calm at the pharmacy last night (for once) to the point where I had a good 10 minutes of downtime to help a patient out.

The purpose of the patient’s call was to figure out if her medication had expired. She had some Valtrex she wanted to take, but she was worried it may have gone bad. I could see from her profile that she had picked it up 2 months ago. There are two reasons why I was certain her medication was still okay to take:

1. When a drug is dispensed at a retail pharmacy, the medication is given a 1 year expiration date unless the manufacturer’s bottle it came from says a date sooner than that. In the case where the manufacturer’s expiration date comes first (before the 1 year mark), that is the date that is put on the bottle. (this is a general rule – some states have different laws so be aware!) The expiration date can be found on the label that is on your medication bottle.

2. Retail pharmacy staff will go through all of the drug bottles on the shelves and send back any of them that are going to expire within at least the next few months (within 3 months of the expiration date is the usual guideline).

So, since the patient had picked up her medication only 2 months ago, I had a good idea the medication was at least good for another month (based on reason #2 from above).

Just to make sure I was right, I had her find the expiration date on the label that was put on her drug bottle – the date was indeed 1 year from the day it was filled so her drugs will be good until next May (2010).

When drugs expire, they start to breakdown into chemicals that could be very bad for your health. Therefore, it is important to know whether your medication has expired. The expiration date marks the point in time where the drug is no longer effective so there is no sense in taking it. The expiration dates are not just made-up, but rather found from doing scientific experiments to see when the drug does not work any more.

I know you may like to hold on to those medications in case something comes up, but it really can be harmful to your health if you take an expired drug. The medication becomes more dangerous for you the longer it sits around after its expiration date.

I urge you to toss that medication bottle in the garbage (or maybe first you should flush the drugs down the toilet) once that expiration date has arrived.