Bioethics News

The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates

July 18, 2017

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This story was co-published with NPR’s Shots blog.

The box of prescription drugs had been forgotten in a back closet of a retail pharmacy for so long that some of the pills predated the 1969 moon landing. Most were 30 to 40 years past their expiration dates — possibly toxic, probably worthless.

But to Lee Cantrell, who helps run the California Poison Control System, the cache was an opportunity to answer an enduring question about the actual shelf life of drugs: Could these drugs from the bell-bottom era still be potent?

Cantrell called Roy Gerona, a University of California, San Francisco, researcher who specializes in analyzing chemicals. Gerona had grown up in the Philippines and had seen people recover from sickness by taking expired drugs with no apparent ill effects.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.