Q. When I picked up a prescription from the pharmacy, the pharmacy label had a “use before” date of 09/04/10. The manufacturer’s label, under the pharmacy label, had an “expiration” date of Dec 2012. Why is this?
A. It is more convenient for the pharmacist to put a one-year computer-generated “use by” date on the prescription label than to hunt for the manufacturer’s specific expiration date. In some states, the pharmacist is legally required to display a one-year use-by date.
As you discovered, this does not represent a true expiration date. If you request this information when you submit your prescription, the pharmacist could take a little extra time and provide it for you.

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  1. Sue T
    Reply

    Just an additional comment related to the entries by “Greg PharmacyStudent” and “donald weiss” — as my pharmacist explained to me.
    Your doctor might indicate, for example, that your prescription could be issued 6 times. But, if you only get only your initial prescription amount and then 5 renewals before reaching the pharmacy’s one-year expiration date, the next time you ask for a renewal the pharmacy will ask you or the doctor’s office to provide a new prescription.
    This legal requirement is independent of the drug’s controlled-conditions shelf life.
    But, as Greg and Mr. Weiss commented, there are good reasons to assume the shelf life at home is not always under the best conditions; and, that you should be seeing a doctor at least annually about any condition requiring a prescription drug.

  2. AT
    Reply

    I found some bottles of pain medication of my deceased father. They are in the original full bottles and have not been in the bathroom/kitchen. The doctor must have given him the bottles. There are no expiration dates on the bottles. My mother wants to use the pain medicines for which she has the same prescriptions. Aside from being less potent, can the meds become dangerous -toxic over time? I have given the ATBs, and other drugs to the local health department for them to dispose.

  3. donald weiss
    Reply

    AS A PHARMACIST FOR 50 YEARS IN NJ I THINK YOUR EXPLANATION IS MISLEADING. THE MANUFACTURERS EXP DATE IS ASSUMING THE DRUG WILL REMAIN IN THE ORIGINAL BOTTLE UNDER CONTROLLED CONDITIONS. ONCE THE PATIENT OPENS THE BOTTLE AND STORES IT IN A BATHROOM OR KITCHEN THE HUMIDITY AND HEAT WILL CAUSE THE DRUG TO DETORIATE MUCH FASTER, AND THAT IS THE MAIN REASON FOR THE 1 YEAR EXP DATE THE PHARMACST PUTS ON THE LABEL. THE IMPRESSION PEOPLE WILL GET FROM YOUR ANSWER IS THAT IT IS OK TO USE THE EXP DATE ON THE MANUF. LABEL. THIS IS NOT CORRECT.

  4. Kathleen
    Reply

    At my pharmacy, we always correct the date if it will expire before the one year expiration date that is automatically generated. If it says it just has the one year expiration date, then it has at least that and most likely, well over that time frame.
    I would never mind if someone requested the actual expiration date so just ask your pharmacist if you want to know.

  5. Greg PharmacyStudent
    Reply

    This issue is as much a liability and safety issue as it is an issue with convenience. Any prescription is only legal for 1 year after the prescriber (MD, OD, DDS, PA, CNP) writes it. In that way the prescriber is also “on the hook” liable for it for at least a year. The pharmacy is also on the hook for insuring that your medications are safe.
    After a year you should ask yourself, Does my doctor still want me on this? I am I still treating the same condition? This is kind of a moot point — if you have had it for over a year do you still need it? Antibiotics are notorious for misuse.
    The expiration date of a medication depends on its storage. For example milk if left out on a hot day is only good for a short time. When milk is in a container that blocks light and is kept in the refrigerator it is usually good for whatever the expiration says.
    Prescription medications are very similar. However most don’t smell like milk so you have NO IDEA if they are “spoiled”. Most don’t realize that the local pharmacy is very regulated in the temperature and humidity. The package and environment that medications are stored in is different than how they are dispensed to the public.
    The main thing is that there are tests that have determined how long medications are good for and after that point it is hard to tell. Store your medications way from light, heat and moisture in a tightly sealed bottle. When in doubt throw it out.

  6. JHE
    Reply

    It is so sad–that “more convenient” is more important than what is good
    for the patient. It seems “do the right thing” is just a forgotten phrase
    in our society. I’m 68 years old–and believe me–we didn’t grow up that
    way. That pharmacy makes money off of that patient.

  7. Eliza
    Reply

    Unfortunately the pharmacy’s automatic one-year dating process means the label will say a drug expires in a year even if it actually expires sooner. Sometimes the pharmacy will notice the actual expiration date and correct the printed label. When the label isn’t corrected, I wonder what the actual expiration date is.

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