General Question

AstroChuck's avatar

Is there a health concern with taking expired Vicodin?

Asked by AstroChuck (37218points) August 6th, 2009 from iPhone

Today has been a real bad back pain day. I always carry several ibufrofen with me along with an emergency Soma and an emergency 750ml Vicodin for such occasions. After the ibuprofen failed to do any thing I decided to take a Vicodin as I’m at work and the Soma tends to make me lethargic. This Vicodin had been in my little pill case for a long time. I noticed the size of it (horse pill) and realized this was from a real old prescription as the newer ones are slimmer. Anyway, I took it and twenty minutes or so later I’m dealing with the pain fine. This got me wondering about my old prescription pills. I have a ton of old Vicodin and I’m unsure if there is any danger in taking a painkiller that is long past its expiration date. Do these pills pose any threat to my health or do outdated medications just lose potentcy over time? And just how long past their expiration date are they effective? I’m hoping for a pharmacist’s or MD’s take on this.

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18 Answers

Zendo's avatar

Apparently it is safe, however the potency may have been affected by the age of the pill and its storage.

gailcalled's avatar

If nothing eles, take them rarely and split them in half. The opiates are, as you know, habit-forming. Perhaps if your back really hurts, you should take several down-days, ice and heat back and rest.

PerryDolia's avatar

It depends on how expired it is, and how it was stored. Expiration dates are estimates based on the drug company wanting to 1. Sell you more product before you really need to, and 2. Preventing litigation from expired product. They set the expiration date to be short so they sell more stuff and are VERY protected.

If you are within a few months of the expiration date, and the medication was stored properly, you should be fine. I would be concerned if you were more than a year after the expiration.

jrpowell's avatar

Everything I have read is that they could be weakened. They won’t kill you but they might not be as potent.

I am not a doctor.

casheroo's avatar

If you cann a pharmacist, they can answer for you. They’ll probably tell you to just get a new prescription, but it is safe.
It’s not like an antibiotic, where the shelf life is important for effectiveness. Vicodin is acetaminophen (with hydrocodone) and acetaminophen has a very long shelf life (just look at the label of your tylenol…)
I take old valium and percocet, I usually have them for a couple years because I slowly go through pain killers. It’s never hurt me, and my doctors never told me it was bad.

ph.d from goolgeversity, oh and pharm tech training, but no one gives a hoot about that

ragingloli's avatar

you will become extremely antisocial and develop a limp.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Yes, I think the only real issue is that of weakened potency, and even then, not so much. I’ve have my vicodin for a couple of years now, and I took one recently for knee pain. Doing all right so far!

Really, there is actually a drug today called Soma? Right now, Aldous Huxley is somewhere havin’ a larf.

AstroChuck's avatar

@gailcalled- Dont worry about addiction with me. I rarely take them. The last time I had a Vicodin was mealy a half-year ago due to a vicious headache. But when nothing else works I’ll take one. Usually it masks the pain enough that I can carry on.

@casheroo- Psst. It’s not my prescription.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ragingloli hehe, that’s what I thought of too

casheroo's avatar

whoops, obviously I meant “call”

Lupin's avatar

@AstroChuck I’m like you. I never throw a persciption away. I have some viocodin that are at least that old and some Tylenol 3 that are 9 years old. They both still work. And the Tyl 3 make me just as constipated as the day they were prescribed.
Why would a Pharmacist ever say it was ok to take old meds? Just askin’.

AstroChuck's avatar

@aprilsimnel- Yes. Time to dig up Aldous Huxley and tell him Soma is a real drug.

whatthefluther's avatar

Send me a half a dozen of everything you have. I will test and report back.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I keep old drugs around, well except for the ones I am allergic to, such as Vicodin and anything with codeine or codeine derivatives. Most are for pain, were prescribed to me, and they still seem to work. Even the expired Xanax still do their job.

Darwin's avatar

As they get further and further past the expiration date the actual drug as well as the filler material start to break down. Sometimes this merely means that the primary drug will not be as effective. Sometimes it means that the risk of interaction with other medications increases. Sometimes a secondary compound results that either does nothing or produces bad side effects.

For example, aspirin gradually turns into acetic acid over time (it starts to smell like vinegar). While nothing bad happens to you from taking acetic acid, you won’t get the painkilling, blood-thinning, or anti-inflammatory properties of the aspirin. If you are counting on any of those then you could be sadly disappointed.

The expiration date on most medications is two years after the drug is manufactured. However, some drugs can be effective and safe longer than that. As this site says:

“The Medical Letter, a respected source of independent information about drugs, stated in a 2002 article that certain medicines, stored in high humidity and other bad conditions, stayed good to use for 1½ to nine years after their expiration dates.”For instance, Symmetrel (amantadine) and Flumadine (rimantidine), anti-viral drugs used to prevent and treat influenza, withstood 160-degree temperatures and were good after the equivalent of 25 years of ordinary storage,” the reports states. “Many drugs stored under reasonable conditions retain 90 percent of their potency for at least five years after the expiration date on the label, and sometimes much longer.””

The problem is that no one has ever done a detailed study on all the drugs that are out there. Using expired medications is risky. While nothing bad may happen, the drug might not accomplish what you need it for, and it might possibly turn into something that could cause a problem for you.

Lupin's avatar

@Darwin How long before coricidin turns into viagra?

Darwin's avatar

In your dreams, @Lupin!

Lupin's avatar

@Darwin Not that I need it, of course.

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