Public Health

What's In Your Medicine Cabinet?

We're all tempted, but it's generally risky to take medications that have passed the expiration date listed on the package. It's common sense.

Person checks expiration dates on drugs in a medicine cabinet. i i

hide captionTo toss or not to toss?
Person checks expiration dates on drugs in a medicine cabinet.

To toss or not to toss?

But when it comes to swine flu, the federal government, worried about the availability of treatments, has other ideas.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week gave states access to 300,000 doses of liquid Tamiflu from the government's strategic storehouse, for use in children. Some of the drugs are as much as three years past their expriation date. A government official says the Food and Drug Administration has tested the expired lots and they're fine.

But don't try this at home, at least not yet. The FDA has only tested specific lots of Tamiflu, and the government doesn't want people assuming all expired drugs are OK.

The pull dates are set by manufacturers themselves, using what they feel is an absolutely safe estimate. Some critics say companies pick early dates so that people will have to buy more replacement drugs.

Still, many expired drugs are actually still good past the expiration date. The Tamiflu extension is part of a bigger program — the Department of Defense/FDA joint shelf-life extension program — a cost-saving measure for the military, which has large stockpiles of medications on hand. Stay tuned for a radio story on this topic later this month.

A spokesperson for Tamiflu manufacturer Roche says the company sets a 7-year limit on Tamiflu to insure maximum safety. He says the company is reassured by the FDA testing, and doesn't object to the use of the expired lots.



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