A Discussion of Drug Expiration Dating

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Are drug expiration dates really accurate, or our we just throwing away perfectly good medicine?

Federal and State Regulations determine the expiration of a drug. After the expiration date the drugs cannot be returned to the manufacturer and they cannot be sold on the open market. Historically pharmacies have been stocked by the sales representatives of the pharmaceutical companies. Part of their job has been to check the stocking date and take drugs that have reached their expiration date back so that they can be destroyed.

If you have a family member who is in the hospital or if you are caring for them at home and they have been given prescriptions to take at home, those prescriptions cannot be returned to the pharmacy if they are no longer needed for your family member. You are billed for them as if you used them, and indeed, you did, even if you never took them, at least as far as the cost factors are concerned. You cannot obtain a refund and you cannot return the drug for sale to someone else. It is even against the law for you to give to someone else a drug that has been prescribed for you. The regulations surrounding this behavior are pretty tight.

The reason we are discussing this issue is that there is a significant financial cost that happens regarding these drugs that have been prescribed (or stored at a pharmacy of in a hospital but ever administered).  They cannot be sold.

It is a reasonable question to ask if the drugs actually loose their efficacy when the expiration date is reached. Do they no longer work? Why can’t they still be taken? Won’t they help the person who needs them even after the magical “expiration date”?  All of these are great questions that no one is ever allowed to ask.

“Why is that you ask?” Because someone is making money off of those drugs whether or not they are used to help a patient recover and heal. When manufacturers make a drug it is made under license from the federal government. The government asks the drug maker “how long are these good for?” The drug maker tests them prior to use and determines a date. They say “we know these are good for three or five years and that in that time they keep more than 90% of their effectiveness as a drug. Beyond that time it is not that the drugs loose their efficacy it is that they are not tested to see if they are still good. Testing costs money. A shorter time before expiration means that the manufacturer will get to make and sell more of the drugs whether or not the original prescription was taken and used.

Nursing homes, hospitals and pharmacies essentially destroy millions and millions of dollars in value every year by throwing away drugs that have reached their expiration date. This all adds to the health care cost in America.

Could that money be removed from the health care cost if people were allowed to use these drugs beyond an expiration date?  Absolutely. Many people think this issue needs to be reexamined. We are discussing this issue today because we are in agreement. We think that it is a tragic waste to throw away these working drugs! But to accomplish this we need to change the laws and we need to expand the expiration date testing.

The federal government has given itself permission to allow that drugs it has bought for use in the military and in government owned and operated hospitals and nursing homes to expand the usability of these drugs beyond their expiration date. They did this because they know these drugs will work, still having the potency of the ingredients. No one is really worried about the safety of these drugs (except the pharmaceutical industry). Hospitals can dispense them, patients can take them and they are not required to throw them away and buy newer versions whose dates have not expired. They have given themselves an extended shelf life exemption for the shelf life of drugs they have bought. This saves the government in excess of 800 million dollars a year!

Studies contend that the American Medical system can save in excess of a765 billion dollars a year in costs due to wastage caused when working drugs are thrown away because of the concept of the expiration date.

Think about that for a minute: 765 Billion (with a B) dollars in drugs.

If someone you love is in a nursing home and they have a prescription for antibiotics (a thirty day supply) sitting unopened at the nursing station, and they get sent home they cannot be given those unopened drugs to take home and take there. They are given a new prescription to have their family’s re- purchase them. So you go home and buy them then Aunt Sadie goes back into the nursing home a day later because of some other health related issue. You cannot take those antibiotics back to the drug store and tell them that you don’t need them any more. They must be thrown away. The nursing home then obtains a new (third) prescription to have on hand for Aunt Sadie (this is now the third unopened and unused prescription of the same drug that was never given to the patient. At three times the cost)!! This is obscenely ridiculous!

People asked  why this is the case and the food and drug administration said no one has ever asked them to look into this! Furthermore they said they had no opinion regarding this issue. The same people asked the pharmaceutical industry the same question, “why is this so?” and the pharmaceutical industry said “You must understand that our first concern is always public safety!! We really don’t know about the financial impact on the pharmaceutical industry of extending the testing protocols to extend the shelf life of drugs. Surely, this is never about money and profit it is always and only about public safety. So there.

This Health cast was written and presented by Dr. Kathy Maupin, M.D., Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Expert and Author, with Brett Newcomb, MA., LPC., Family Counselor, Presenter and Author. www.BioBalanceHealth.com