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Pharmacy and Medications

Expired Potassium Gluconate tablets

08/26/2010

Question:

I have low potassium and cramps due to taking a diuretic to keep my blood pressure low, & my dr said I need more potassium. I can only eat so many bananas, oranges, potato skins, etc. Apparently it is not enough.

I have almost a full bottle of 250 potassium gluconate tablets that says on it that its expiration date was in 2007.

Is there any HARM in trying those to see if they help? I cannot afford to throw out something that I could still use. I am on a VERY tight budget, every penny counts, and my health insurance prescription drug coverage doesn`t cover dietary supplements.

I know that the official party line is to always throw out expired medications, but what about dietary supplements? If it is "just" ineffective because it is expired, oh well, I will know that soon enough. But what I want to know is, does being "expired" mean that this particular supplement changes chemically into something else that could be harmful?

Thank you.


Answer:

Thank you for contacting Net Wellness. An official definition of the manufacturer's expiration date is the "date beyond which ideally stored medications in the unopened manufacturer's storage container or in most circumstances, the opened and intact manufacturer's storage container, should not be used." The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) says that the expiration date is "the time during which the article may be expected to meet the requirements of the pharmacopeial monograph provided it is kept under the prescribed conditions." This refers to qualities like safety and potency of the drug. It refers to prescription medications and over-the-counter medication including herbal supplements.

There are some medications such as ophthalmic products, creams/ointments or inhalers that once they have begun to be used, they must be discarded after a specific length of time. Most drugs get an expiration date of two to three years from the time of manufacture. This doesn't mean that the drug "goes bad" after the expiration date, or even that it's any different at the time of expiration than it was immediately after it was manufactured. The drug company just has to be sure that, at the assigned expiration date, the drug still meets requirements for safety and potency.

The only medication that has been documented in the past that has caused harm has been degraded tetracycline that was reported to cause kidney damage. How was the medication stored? Not many patients truly can keep medications stored in a cool, dry place without being moved for years on end. Many patients store some medications in the bathroom, where they get moist when the patient takes a shower or bath. Or a patient may store some medications in the kitchen, where the stove gets hot, or on the windowsill, where the sun hits them. Under these circumstances, it is not likely that medications stored will become outright unsafe, but they could easily lose potency, which means they won't be as effective as they should be.

Your health may be too important to chance. It is always a safe rule to store medications in a cool, dry place and discard then when the expiration date says to do so.

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Response by:

Sarah Hudson-DiSalle, PharmD, RPh
Specialty Practice Pharmacist of Outpatient Pharmacy
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University