Why do prescription medicines have an expiry date?

Why do prescription medicines have an expiry date?

Just like food and drink, prescription medicines will display an expiry date or use-by date. Some medicines can be kept safely for a year or more, whilst others, such as eye drops, will have a very short shelf life. It is not only prescription medicines that have expiration dates, as over-the-counter medicines and even medical lotions will typically have an expiry date.

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Safety and effectiveness

The main reason prescription medicines have expiry dates is that they become less effective over time, which means the active ingredients may not work as well and will be less effective. Without knowing how much effectiveness has been lost, there is a risk that people may take more, which can be very dangerous. It is therefore much safer for any medicine that has reached its expiry date to be safely disposed of. This will also ensure you do not have medicine lying around the home that you no longer need.

How to dispose of expired prescription medicines

It is imperative that you dispose of prescription medicines properly. Given that prescription medicines can vary from harmless lotions to very strong opioids, it is best not to make an assumption about how safe they are and to dispose of all expired medicine properly; in fact, unwanted or unused medicine should be disposed of in the same way, even if it is still in date.

Where possible, return all expired or unwanted prescription medicine to your pharmacy or dispensing doctor. Never throw the medicine in the bin or flush it down the toilet, as it can be dangerous for wildlife and marine life.

Safe handling of medication

Logging and checking expiry dates is just part of the process of the safe handling of medication. Safe handling training also covers legislation, medicine refusal, disposal, administration, and accountability, If your staff need this kind of training, contact a specialist provider such as tidaltraining.co.uk/health-and-social-care-courses/safe-handling-medication-training to ensure your staff will be trained in all aspects of the safe handling of medication.

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Always dispose of expired prescription medicine responsibly and, if applicable, consider safe handling training for staff.


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