Are Beyond-Use Dates Different Than Expiration Dates?

Understanding the purpose of beyond-use dates

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A beyond-use date is a date placed on a prescription by a pharmacy noting when that prescription should no longer be used. It will often say "discard after ..." or "do not use after ..." The general practice is for this to be one year from the date the prescription was filled.

How is the Beyond-Use Date Determined?

The beyond-use date is determined by the pharmacy when they fill a prescription based on different factors, including: 

  • The type of drug and how fast it degrades
  • The dosage of the medication
  • The type of container being used
  • The storage conditions the medication is expected to be in
  • How long the medication will be taken 
  • How likely it is that there will be any sort of contamination while the prescription is being filled

Is the Beyond-Use Date Different Than the Expiration Date?

The beyond-use date is almost always different than the actual expiration date of the drug.

An expiration date is a point at which a manufacturer can no longer guarantee the strength or safety of a medication. Because the expiration date is established by testing a drug in specific conditions related to storage containers, lighting, temperature, etc., this date, as per the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is compromised by changing any of these conditions. This includes moving a medication to a different container, which is the normal practice for pharmacies dispensing prescriptions.

Why Beyond-Use Dates?

Due to the potential changes in conditions when a prescription is filled, the US Pharmacopeia, which is the official public standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the-counter medicines and other healthcare products manufactured or sold in the United States, recommends the practice of beyond-use dates for prescriptions.

According to the American Medical Association, the beyond-use date on a medication's label should be no later than the expiration date on the manufacturer’s container and the medication should not be used after the beyond-use date. 

How Important Are Expiration Dates?

The FDA says it's dangerous to take medications after their expiration date because they may not be as effective, their chemical composition may have changed, or they may have deteriorated to a point where harmful bacteria could breed.

Particularly with antibiotics, it's important to watch the expiration date because using an expired antibiotic means it may not be potent enough to completely treat your infection, leaving you at risk for a worse one.

The bottom line is that it is best to not use expired medications because there is no guarantee that they will work the way they are supposed to and they may even make you worse.

How to Safely Store Medications

Medications need to be stored safely to help keep their chemical compositions intact and stop them from becoming breeding grounds for bacteria. Storing them properly until they are expired keeps them safe and at maximum potency.

  • Make sure you are storing your medication according to directions. If the prescription says to store it in the refrigerator, make sure you do. If it says not to expose it to high temperatures, don't store it right next to the stove.
  • Store most medications in a cool, dry area. Bathroom medicine cabinets, though a popular place to store your medications are not a good idea because of the heat and steam that accumulate during showers. This can lead to your medications becoming less effective or even dangerous before the expiration date.
  • Consider locking them up. Prescription drug abuse is at an all-time high and accidental overdosing and poisoning does happen when kids or pets get into medications. A locked box may be a wise solution.

Sources:

American Medical Association. (2008, February). Report 1 of the Council on Scientific Affairs (A001): Pharmaceutical expiration dates.

The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (2013). Pharmaceutical Compounding—Nonsterile Preparations.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (March 2016). Don't Be Tempted to Use Expired Medications.

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