The Risks of Using Expired Medication for Arthritis

Meloxicam has an estimated shelf life of longer than 24 months. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends caution when using drugs like Meloxicam past their expiration date.

An expiration date is put on a product to make us aware that the quality of the product is diminishing. The date represents the length of time the manufacturer can guarantee safety and full potency.

This article looks at drug expiration dates, what they mean, and what research says about whether it is safe to take expired Meloxicam or other drugs that have passed their expiration dates.

Mixed race woman holding medication pills
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Expiration Date of Medication 

The United States has required drug manufacturers to include an expiration date on drug packaging since 1979. The date represents the point to which the drug manufacturer can guarantee full potency and safety of the drug.

Two Schools of Thought 

Most of what we know about drug shelf life comes from an old FDA study. The military was discarding and replacing drugs every couple of years, and they wanted to know if they could save money by keeping the drugs around longer. The study aimed to answer that question.

The results of that study led to the SLEP (shelf life extension program), which has been administered by the Food and Drug Administration for the United States Department of Defense (DOD) for more than 20 years.

Based on stability assessment data for 3,005 lots of 122 different drugs, in 1986 88% of the lots were extended beyond their original expiration date. Of the 2,652 lots extended, only 18% were eventually terminated due to failure. The rest of the lots are either still active (35%) or were abated (47%) by the military. This has been the basis for one school of thought regarding expired medication.

The second school of thought says it's just too risky to take expired medication since there is no guarantee that it will be safe or effective beyond that date. The FDA warns that the military study did not mirror the drugs in your own medicine cabinet well enough for a general conclusion to be drawn. They've advised caution, even though the study concluded that, with a few exceptions like tetracycline, nitroglycerin, and insulin, drugs remain stable for years beyond their expiration.

The Bottom Line from the FDA

“Expiration dates on medical products are a critical part of determining if the product is safe to use and will work as intended,” says FDA pharmacist Ilisa Bernstein. If your medicine has expired, don't use it.

Summary

An older FDA study found that drugs may be safe to use beyond their expiration date. However, this study isn't necessarily relevant for the medications that you use. To be on the safe side, the FDA recommends discarding medication that has passed its expiration date. The only way you can be sure of the safety and potency of a medication is to use during its estimated shelf life and not beyond that time.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Center for Druge Evaluation and Research. Chemistry reviews: NDA 207233.

  2. Diven DG, Bartenstein DW, Carroll DR. Extending shelf life just makes sense. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(11):1471-1474. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.08.007

  3. Zilker M, Sörgel F, Holzgrabe U. A systematic review of the stability of finished pharmaceutical products and drug substances beyond their labeled expiry dates. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2019;166:222-35. doi:10.1016/j.jpba.2019.01.016

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.