Open your medicine cabinet. Seriously, walk away from the screen and open your medicine cabinet, or drawer or where ever you keep your medications. Check the dates. I bet many are expired. I bet some have been expired a few years. I bet there’s a bottle of Advil crammed in the back that you didn’t remember that you had. Or a box of condoms. All of these things expire – and all need to be sorted through regularly to make sure that your health isn’t in jeopardy when you take (or in the case of a condom, use) expired medications.

Everything has an expiration date – even if it isn’t labeled. The FDA makes it mandatory for drug companies to label drugs and vitamins. Most are clearly stamped, so these shouldn’t be a problem. The same goes with condoms, as most have an expiration date not only on the box, but on each wrapper. The problem comes with prescription drugs. Most have the “take by” date as one year from the date of having it filled. But is this accurate? What about a nerve medication, such as Ativan or Xanax that you only take occasionally? According to Drugs.com, “The expiration date of a drug is estimated using stability testing under good manufacturing practices as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)”. The estimated range for prescription drugs is between 12 and 60 months, aka one to five years.

A study by the American Medical Association (AMA) tested 3,000 lots of 120 prescriptions and found that 88% have a longer viability than the “use by” date. This means only 12% didn’t live up to their expiration dates. The drugs tested that lived past their expirations dates include morphine injections, amoxicillin, ciprofloxican, and diphenhydramine.

So, is it safe to take expired prescriptions? Eh, perhaps. Consulting your pharmacist is the best thing that you can do. If you are in a bind – or in the midst of a panic attack – taking an expired Ativan or Xanax probably will not hurt. But antibiotics (which should have been taken in its full course when you first prescribed it) and anti-vital treatments may differ. Insulin is not okay to use after its expiration date ; it was one of the prescriptions that did not live past its expiration date at its full potency. Nitroglycerin, commonly used for angina pain, also loses it potency quickly, once the bottle is opened. That is why it is double-packed in fancy little bottles.

The point to this is that you need to keep track of what is going on in your medicine cabinet. Check the expiration dates. If it has somehow worn off your prescription bottle, call your pharmacy to learn when you had it filled (many keep records of 10 years or more). Throw out old condoms, creams, and antibiotics, insulin, Nitroglycerin, and anti-virals. Or, better yet, instead of flushing old medications (this is bad, as it leaves a residue in the city or county water supply), store them separately for when your local police department hosts a pill drop for old or unused prescriptions. Your local hospital may also have a similar program; call to inquire.