Is it illegal to keep your expired painkillers?

I have no insurance. its a pain in the arse, and every so often , a pain in the head. I get migraines. For those of you not privy to the firsthand knowledge of what those are like, it’s not “aw man, my head hurts”, it’s more like “please make it stop”. From my experience, like many others, the best treatment is old-fashioned opioid painkillers.

if i had a bottle of a narcotic analgesic that was prescribed to me 2 years ago, would i be breaking the law if i kept it? I’ve tried to find some reliable information on this but most searches turn up results by “addiction help” sites saying that they should be thrown out because they are “poisonous” or will lead you down a dark path to damnation. i would think that the information would be more readily available on the legality of this. Anyone know?

Why would it be illegal? The expiration date is an (inaccurate) indication of the drug’s effectiveness; it doesn’t stop being legal on that date. You paid for the meds, they are yours. I don’t see how anything else is relevant.

Definitely not illegal. The expiration date is only a good estimate of when some component of the medication might begin to be less effective. Keep your prescription meds in a container with your name on it (preferably the one you received from the pharmacy) if you’re worried about the legalities, but the Expired Drug Police won’t come after you just because your meds allegedly went off yesterday.

If you have kept drugs beyond the expiry date, I would think you aren’t addicted or abusing them.

Just watch for signs of deterioration.

With younger children in the house, it may be prudent to actually lock them up for storage or dispose of them though.

I don’t know, but I *do *know that when I asked my doc how to dispose of them, she simply said that I should lock them in a safe container.

Every single prescription I use (and that is at least 6 every month) has an expiration date exactly a year after I filled it. This is impossible and ther result of it is that the expiration date on prescription drugs is useless.

I have a bottle of 50 pills of some narcotic that I got over five years ago when I broke my ankle. I never used even one. I guess I should discard it. But I remember the time, 17 years ago when I had a back attack so severe I could not get out of bed and no doctor would prescribe a pain killer without an examination and doctors don’t make house calls any more. It lasted over a month. So I like having an emergency narcotic around.


I have some in my medicine cabinet from 1985. Obviously, I’m not a big drug user. In an emergency, I believe I would take them. I would have more confidence in them than some older bullets that I have set aside.

Most drugs lose effectiveness in varying degrees over time, yet are not toxic. There are a few exception where a chemical change takes place that may put someone at risk. Search the Internet for your medication and see if anything pops up.

For the most part, the expiration date is about trying to guarantee a certain dosage effectiveness up to a point in time. They have to draw the line somewhere so it’s often one year.

There is actually a reason for this. According to USP guidelines, when a medication is dispensed from a pharmacy, the expiration date is set at 1 year, or the date on the stock bottle, whichever is shorter. The reason for this is because once you take a medication home, there is no one to guarantee the storage conditions of the medication. Most drugs are suppose to be stored in a cool dry place around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This could be totally different then the bathroom medicine cabinets that most people store their drugs, so USP guidelines error on the side of caution.

Drug companies have a tradition of “under promise, over deliver” when it comes to expiration dates and retained efficacy.

One company I worked for did an internal, not-for-publish study that indicated that a particular diet med they were producing had a shelf life (with no loss in effectiveness) of 45-55 years. What did they stamp on it? 1 year from dispense. Maybe those things would be good for 100 years or more if stored in perfect lab conditions, who knows? They only bothered recreating the environments to simulate for 50 years and it came out fine.

Interesting side note: The actual composition of many gel-coated tablets? A hefty percentage of good old confectioner’s sugar. The “active ingredient” portion is usually less than 25% of the tablet, and maybe as low as 2%. The reason for this is the dosage needs to wind up a decent sized pill, as people feel a bit cheated (plus the inconvenience of handling) ultra-tiny tablets. Active ingredients can be shockingly potent for their size.

Oh yes. My mom is a Nurse Practitioner, and she says the smallest dosage she’s seen, IIRC, is 50 micrograms, which would be 5 milligrams. 5 FREAKING ONE THOUSANDTH of a gram. My god, that’s potent stuff, whatever it is.

Cyanide is a famous classic poison, and I find this:

“LD50s for hydrogen cyanide have been estimated to be 1.1 mg/kg for intravenous administration and 100 mg/kg after skin exposure. The oral LD50s for sodium and potassium cyanide are about 100 and 200 mg/kg respectively.”

Meaning that a large man of 100Kg would need 20 grams of KCN to have a 50/50 chance of killing him. The point being that something delivered in the microgram scale is indeed “shockingly potent.” And I guess the stomach’s digestion really dulls the effectiveness of cyanide.

nitpick: 0.05 milligrams actually. So it’s even worse!

“All of the pain medication these days is ‘Super’ this and ‘Extra-strength’ that. It’s like the drug company PR guy goes to the lab boys and says, ‘Make this strong enough to kill me, and then baaaaaack it off just a little.’” - Jerry Seinfeld

Not quite. If you have the original packaging (and you would, for an OTC drug, but would not if the medicine was dispensed in a pharmacy; the pharmacy has the original bulk package), then the expiration date on the package refers to the amount of time for which the drug has been shown to be stable, as required by law.

It is not a measure of drug effectiveness. It is not a time point at which the drug (might) begin to become less effective.

It is a time point at which the law no longer requires the product to be tested for stability and safety and therefore the manufacturer has not tested it further. Beyond this point (or, likely, a couple of months past that date, as a liability buffer), there is no data to tell you whether the drug is still useful, whether it has degraded into nothing more than a placebo, or whether it has degraded into something which may be toxic or cause complications for the medical condition you are attempting to treat.

Clearly expiration dates are not time bombs; the drug doesn’t begin to self-destruct the day after the date on the label, but also clearly at some future point in time the drug will have degraded to some degree, only no one has studied when or by what mechanism that will occur, because they are not required to. Any data regarding this you may find on the internet does not come from a pharmaceutical company, since they do not test for what happens to a drug after the point when no one should be using it anyways.

While some drugs might be shown to be stable for 40, 50, 100 years, this cannot - by any means - be taken as meaningful for any other drug (or even for another formulation of the same drug). What happens to Tylenol has fuck all to do with what happens to etanercept or civamide or methotrexate anything else.

Taking an expired medication is taking a risk and there is no one who can give you any information whatsoever about how big that risk is.

The one-year expiration date on prescription medications has to do with pharmacy dispensing laws. It also has the added benefit of making you return to see your doctor if your condition does not improve and you run out of medicine. The product’s expiration date as determined by the research and development that went into the drug design is on the original packaging (and company documentation regarding the specific lot number) and your pharmacist has that.

Um… I think I saw this in a magazine… How many “mic’s” of LSD for a really good time? THERE is a potent drug.

Nobody has approached the point in which this topic hits BOTH medical AND legal advice:

If the prescription as in “the doctor’s permission to have the stuff” in the first place - not the paper, not the pills, not the package - the doctor told you to take x every y often FOR 10 DAYS - and that was 5 years ago. During those 10 days, it was legal for you to have them.
How about now? Where is a doctor’s (or a court’s) PERMISSION to have those nasty drugs?
Doctors? Lawyers?
Mods llocking this thread?

But a prescription isn’t a document saying it’s only legal for you to HAVE them for use on x-number of days. Just that it is legal for the pharmacy to SELL you x-amount of the drug for a time period specified, or amount of refills specified. What you do with it afterwards is pretty much your business, as long as you don’t sell a controlled substance to anyone else. But the pharmacy doesn’t come to your house to search for unused tablets on the eleventh day…why would you get the idea it is illegal to possess them after the dosage time?

I can’t answer your drug question but having battled migraines I would like to hear what you’re going through. How do they start?

Um, the fact that,absent some authority, it IS illegal to have them. If it was illegal to have them the day BEFORE the 'script was written, and I’m reasonably certain that I would not get too far arguing that “But your honor, I HAD a script for them in 1983, so it must be OK for me to have them now”.

This is a matter that ‘it didn’t used to be legal for me to have them, then it was’ - at what time does that permission expire?

Any cop who would let me slide with “those are just unused ones from 1983” is probably not destined for a long career.

I can’t answer your drug question but having battled migraines I would like to hear what you’re going through. How do they start?

For me it starts with the chills. it could be 90 degrees and i will begin to shudder. Then I start to feel a bit down, like drained and a little sad. After that is when the fun begins. I will start to get a blur in one eye. It will look a bit like water as runs down your windshield. The blur will start in the far side of my field of vision and work it’s way in until i am blind in that eye. After about 20-30 minutes the blur will begin to vanish and the nausea and pain will begin. Although one time I got the aura and had no migraine…weird.

If you have kept drugs beyond the expiry date, I would think you aren’t addicted or abusing them

What assumption are you basing that on? If I were addicted, wouldn’t the meds be taken before they had a chance to expire?

I agree that it is not illegal to possess outdated medications in your home, but trouble might arise if you actually take them. If your job has drug testing (random or event based) and you test positive for narcotics, showing a script for said narcotics dated 2 years ago right after your appendectomy is probably not going to cut it with your employer.