Letter : Shelf life of prescription medications

Hi, Mr Creekmore,

I just discovered your blog, and I am thrilled! My husband and I are seriously into prepping, and your blog was a godsend!

In your blog, “Ten MORE Things You Can Do NOW“, you had a commenter named Bryce who stated that medicines past the expiration date lost their potency, and became poisonous. I wanted to comment on that fallacy, but your comments were closed. I think the truth of this needs to be made public, so I am contacting you.

My husband doc retired from the US Navy after 20 years as a Chief Petty Officer. In service, he was a Medical Corpsman and Technician. As part of his duties, he set up and maintained aid stations and labs, so he is very knowledgeable about medicines. Still, I raised an eyebrow when I was inventorying our survival supplies and found painkillers 2 and 3 years past the expiration date! (We’ve only been married 6 months.) doc laughed and told me that while in the Navy he routinely stocked entire stations with outdated medicines and medical supplies!

The military had the FDA do tests on medicines and medical supplies to determine how long they remained potent after the expiration date. The military had huge stockpiles of such things; if they had to throw these things out and replace them the cost would be astronomical! The FDA found that 90% of over 100 OTC and prescription drugs were perfectly fine 15 YEARS after the expiration date. Some of the potency had decreased, but most of the original potency still existed, enough to make the drugs effective. If the drugs were stored in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, the potency was extended.

Drugs such as nitroglycerin, insulin, and liquid antibiotics do not have this long shelf life, of course.

Have you ever wondered what Big Pharm does with all the expired medicines they have returned to them? They sell them, at a discount, to Third World countries.

Hope this helps clear things up a little.


Cynthia P

And a follow-up letter regarding the Shelf life of prescription medications

My wife just told me about your blog. You can do a lot to help people. I in a small way have been working in the medical field for over 20 yrs.

One of the many things you have to consider when working with expired medicines is to inspect the pills. Some of the things to look for are: Are the pills in good shape? Have they expanded in size? Are they getting powdery (disintegrating)? Have they changed color? If any of these things have occurred, the medicine should be discarded. If you can place them in a vacuum sealed bag that is ID ed with the proper dosage pills should last for at least 10 yrs.

I would be willing to answer more questions on this, but I don’t want to write a textbook!  We could make this an online contributory thing, if you want; I will be glad to answer questions and comments. We have been preppers for over 10 years, but still feel like we’re just beginning! This is why these online forums are so important, because it allows us to disseminate the information we will need to survive.

M.D. Adds : as with anything dealing with health please read our Disclosure Policy.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of TheSurvivalistBlog.net. He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Glad to hear that, thanks. I don’t think I’ve ever taken expired prescription drugs but I do know I’m using a large bottle of Ibuprofen that has expiration date of 2006 and they work fine.
    You mentioned Nitroglycerin, I’m pretty sure mine has long past it’s date. Guess I should get them replaced?

  2. Mystery Guest says:

    Many, many years ago our family doctor told me that we were the most wasteful nation he knew of. He said that medicines lasted a lot longer than what is put on them for expiration.
    He told me to only throw stuff away if it smelled funny or had drawn dampness.
    And I figure he meant it most definitely as he was quite stern in the telling us.
    In fact most of our outdated medicines are sent to other countries.

  3. private idaho says:

    I too have asked a doctor about expired meds. he said they would be fine for a while but would lose their potency.

  4. There is an Army study floating around the net that was done which pretty much said what everyone else has said, age decreases potency, just like us old men!

  5. Cynthia P and DH (Dear Husband),

    MD is always looking for articles and one on this subject would be WONDERFUL. Did you know there is also a contest for the articles and MD awards prizes for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places?

    Please consider writing an article for us – that would be most helpful.

    • I second that! And I would love to know what type of the same medication stores best ~~ liquid vs solid pill vs capsule vs liquid in a capsule. I usually buy the liquid in a capsule type as I think (maybe wrongly) that it goes to work faster. For instance, Advil comes in a solid round pill, a longer liquid filled capsule; Tylenol comes in solid pill, a capsule that uses a gelatin-like coating and a liquid. What is best, and what stores best??


  6. Donna in MN says:

    I used expired 10 to15 year old antibiotics for my dogs I had in the past and used them to cure my infections and my younger dogs including Lyme disease. I saved thousands by not going to the doctors and prescribing me the same pills.

  7. Miriam Kearney says:

    does anyone know what the true shelf life of Lantus Synthetic Insulin would be? And after SHTF – what would a diabetic do if they ran out of insulin?

    • Read ‘One Second After’ it covers that subject, the out come is not good.

    • Paint a three inch square of betadyne on the body, if not allergic to it…in afternoon, check sugar levels in am. I am not diabetic, but have been told by others that tried this and it worked…for them… regular use of this would boost iodine levels, and prevent radiation poisioning…might want to try this to see how well it works for you before interruption in supply occcurs…at the least it might help stretch your medication supply.

    • as a type 1 diabetic i have used lantus that has been stored in my fridge 2 and a half years after i got it. I assume that you are a type 2 diabetic because you only ask about lantus so my advice to you would be to get in shape, eat right and do whatever it takes to get off insulin even if it is just to the pills because those will last much longer than insulin.

      I prep so my family can survive if SHTF, I will die almost immediately if i cant keep my insulin cold and even if i can keep it cold i will be dead within a couple years

  8. Kin_of_Sgt. Alvin C. York says:

    Very good post! I have been “collecting” various meds from all the docs I’ve been going to over the years.

    As a “Seasoned Citizen,” a lot of the docs I have went to over the years have literally “thrown” prescription pills at me; their MO seems to be: “Be brief, here’s pills, now get out.” (I shudder to think what it will be like under ObamaCare.)

    So I would get all these scripts filled, but carefully put some sterile cotton balls in each amber pill bottle they prescribed for me (so the pills don’t smash each other during moving or storage); then, put each pill bottle in a tiny plastic zip seal “snack bag;’ then, I’d put a few of these smaller zip bags into a larger one gallon freezer ziplock bag; then, I toss them all into an army .50 cal ammo can. Kept it out of direct sunlight and at a constant temperature. So my “stored up pills” should be good to go for at least a decade.

    Some of the “pill pusher” docs I have visited gave me oodles of pills to pop. I would fill the scripts, not take a one, and stash them away. A few months later I would take my usual blood test and then see these same docs. They would exclaim: “See–those pills I gave you are working; you are doing fine! Your blood work is aok!”

    I didn’t want to bust their pill-popping balloon by admitting I never took the stuff they prescribed! Your own body heals itself to a large degree–ALL UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF “THE GREAT PHYSICIAN” of all, Lord Jesus.

    I had a very good “Christian” physician (who was very skimpy passing out meds), relate to me: “You know why doctors “practice” medicine?”

    I said: “No, I don’t know why?”

    He answered: “Because only God heals people and critters. We just “practice” at it!”

    Food for thought…

  9. Hunker-Down says:

    From The Patriot Nurse.

  10. Thanks for the information.

    I look at “expiration dates” as a guide to when I should be replacing them. I do not throw them out, but assume they will be less potent.

  11. I’ve used several drugs that were way past their EX-date in my life.

    First, eritromicin ophtalmic ointment, EX-dated two years. Reason ; conjunctivitis. Effective? Yes, as brand new. Kept in bathroom, subject to several temperature changes and humidity.

    Second, salicylic acid ointment (Antiphlogistine), EX-dated four years. Reason ; backpain. Effective, yes, though a bit less and the heat was more intense. Kept in bathroom too.

    Third, naproxen. EX-dated one year. Reason ; backpain. Effective, hell yeah. Kept in bedroom with AC working all year-long.

    Fourth, salbutamol (Ventolin). EX-dated FIVE years. Effective, yes, even MORE effective, had to reduce posology. Kept in backpack and forgot it there.

    That’s about it. As you can see, I don’t mind testing the limits of drugs in a world so filled with excellent doctors and hospitals. I’ve also pushed the posology to several times the recommended dose without any side effects, maybe except a few stomach burns. Not that bad.

    By the way, I am NOT advocating the use of EX-dated drugs or the bad habit of not respecting posology. What I do to myself is my own business, but please, pals, don’t get sick, or worse, just because It worked out well for me.

  12. This discussion came up about 1+ years ago when my dn sent an email about drugs and the longevity of them, I was having to go outside the USA for an antibiotic we no longer produce (to cheap for the drug companies to produce any longer). She works in that field of medicine. Any way, she told me that the meds go beyond the date of expiration it.
    Here is how it works the plant that make the medication has an expiration date but due to the travel time, conditions that the medication is subject to travel to the pharmacy. The pharmacy reduces the time the drugs will be safe for the patient to use to protect themselves from ambulance chasing shysters.
    In order to extend the life of the drugs seal them to deprive them of oxygen and place in a wine cooler, it is temp control with the correct amount of humidity for the meds to extend there life usefulness.
    Yes, I have a wine cooler, but I need a much larger one. 😉

  13. There is another answer rather than expired medications. As a holistic nurse, I treat people with the pharmacy in the fridge and the medicine cabinet in the cupboard.

    There are sites that will help with this. WaterCures.org ( http://www.watercures.org/health-care-survivalist.html ) provides a wealth of information on how to manage everything from Blood pressure and diabetes to cancer.

    The unprocessed sea salt used in the water cures protocol has a very long shelf life. Water, generally only has a 6 month shelf life.

    Other additives like baking soda work for urinary tract infections.

    I have used the Water Cures UTI Protocol both in private practice and as a hospice nurse. It works.

    Mainstream health care does not embrace this because there is no profit. Yet, ask yourself, what is the first thing they do in the hospital. They put an IV of water and salt inside you. The water cures is a oral version of what the hospital does every day.

    Additionally, there are a number of foods that can help those suffering from various diseases or conditions.

  14. As to type 1 diabetes, don’t give up. The shelf life of insulin consideration may be disconcerting for some. Yet there is exciting research being done right now.

    The challenge of reversing type 1 diabetes is, how long has the use of insulin been in effect? The longer it is used the more damage to the pancreas. The question, why are new beta cells not being made? If it is because of food allergies, heavy metal exposure or some causative factor, removing the cause and giving the body the building blocks can make healing possible.

    I have only been a nurse for 20 years. In that short time, I have seen, sometimes personally, things that were thought impossible happen. Things like tissue regenerating on the bare bones of a leg that the patient refused to let the docs amputate. Or the woman who was in a totally vegetative state, my talking to her every day (as a brand new nurse, I only had 2 patients) and several times a day, she came back. Yet, up till that time, it was considered impossible.

    Necessity may prove to be the impetus for finding the cures for many things that face us. I for one will be looking for all of you. Since the water cures works for and is being studied for type 2 diabetes, it may provide benefits for type 1 as well. Time and research will tell. As to the need for insulin, when it is not available, there will be options.

  15. Chuck Findlay says:

    I read a few studies the US government did on medicine and in the studies it it was made clear that pills last a LONG time, something like 15 to 20 years if the meds were kept dry, cool and out of the light. Based on this info I vacuum sealed several meds I felt I would want to have around in the future and stored them in a cabinet in the basement.

  16. Here are two of the expiration debate articles. I could not find the original studies though.



    Here is a short list of ones good for up to 40 years…..
    acetaminophen, codeine, caffeine, hydrocodone, aspirin, amphetamine and others.

    Acetaminophen should be taken off your list though. Two studies found that it worked worse than a placebo for arthritis pain. It depletes your glutathione, the master antioxidant, the master detoxifier and the master immune booster.

    A better choice, the antidote for acetaminophen poisoning, NAC or N-acetylcysteine or N Acetyl-Cysteine (many spellings, all the same thing).

    Instead of just doing one thing, this does dozens of beneficial things. It is to your body what Iodine is to your thyroid if exposed to radiation. It will help with mental illness as well as pain management. It is safe with no side effects unless you massively overdose on it.

    Here is the list of the benefits…you can get it anywhere. I buy the cheapest.


  17. I assume there is no difference between prescription drugs for home use and pharmaceuticals in the hospital used by staff. Hmm, that gives me a whole new place to obtain meds. We had been returning them to the supplier and receiving virtually no credit at all. I have only ever seen one medication bad and that was nitro. It’s placed in brown vials and not supposed to be exposed to daylight for a good reason. I did used to wonder why if med’s didn’t work, and were flushed down the toilet they became such a hazard in our drinking water. Apparently someone in a position of authority has been lying about this. I’m shocked!
    I also second the alternatives to big Pharma. Essential oils and plants are easily available and so far, seem to be very effective at what I’ve used them for, and I just got started. I’m very appreciative of the education that I’ve been getting from the company I bought them from.
    Awesome comments

  18. Sorry but nitroglycerin is very sensitive when exposed to light (and probably air) and its shelf life is indeed short.

    Some literature recommends 3 -6 months.

    But what about all the other drugs? According to the Archives of Internal Medicine Oct 8, 2012 some medications are effective for up to 50 years!

    In the study, 8 medications between 28-40 years after expiration in original unopened containers were found to still be 80% effective.
    The medications looked at included narcotic pain meds like hydrocodone and codeine and sedatives such as butalbital.
    Interestingly, with 90% active ingredient levels, a medication meets the potency guidelines for retail sale.

    This is not new information. Long term stability testing was looked at by the military. They found that 80% of 122 “different drugs had their expiration dates extended on the average of 5 years and as many as 23 years.

    But, what if there was a better way?

    Going back to the nitro. A friend in the back seat of our car (in 2012), miles from the nearest hospital or anywhere for that matter, complained of chest pain. Asking, she had already taken 2 nitro with no effect. They were not expired either.

    Happening to have a bag of salt, we stopped at the first convenient store to get water. Taking a pinch of salt and dissolving it in her mouth, she then drank the water. Within 45 seconds the chest pain was gone.
    The following week she called to say she continued on the water cures protocol. She could now walk in the evening with her daughter and was not winded. Actually, she was able to out walk her daughter who had a teenage son.

    We are not sick because we are depleted in the various chemicals that are in pharmaceuticals. The water cures works for over 70 different diseases and conditions. As a holistic nurse, I have not found a person who’s pain I could not managed with the water cures, foods or as a last resort, some supplements.

    My first supplement choice of an all around supplement that helps with pain, infection, nerve healing, the antidote to a number of things toxic to humans, helps protect us from radiation and boosts our immunity. Oh yea, it helps by providing heavy metal chelation. It is NAC or

    Cysteine helps us make glutathione, the master antioxidant, the master detoxifier and the master immunity booster. NAC is the antidote to acetaminophen poisoning given in the hospital.

    In typical dosing, it is safe. If you overdose, 6 or more capsules, it could cause heart problems. Just don’t overdose. Having been around for over 30 years, it is safe for almost everyone. There are few exceptions.

    I has a shelf life of about 2 years. When it goes bad, it will present with a whiff of vinegar, the sign that it is breaking down.

    Good health to you and yours.

  19. In many European countries the expiration date of most meds is “date of production + 5 years”, and many of us will go longer than that. I guess the ABC-CBS-NBC world news can’t talk about this anomaly in the US since a huge % of their adds are for medications … they rather focus on the non working ACA website!

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