October 16, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle (SF’s leading newspaper)

Thinking about going through your medicine cabinet and throwing out all your expired prescriptions? That might not be necessary, according to a UCSF-led study. Researchers analyzed eight prescription drugs with 15 active ingredients that expired between 28 and 40 years ago and found that most remained just as potent as they were on the day they were made. In 12 of the 14 drug compounds, or 86 percent of the time, the amount of active ingredient present in the drugs was at least 90 percent of the amount indicated on the label. That’s well within the “reasonable variation” allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of 90 percent to 110 percent. Only two compounds – aspirin and the stimulant amphetamine – fell below the 90 percent threshold. Another medication, the painkiller phenacetin, fell below the threshold in one sample but was found in levels greater than 90 percent in another. The study was published online last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Note: A drug listed expired as 40 years ago is still just as potent as the day it was made. Could short expiration dates be an example of drug companies finding a way to make more money through unnecessary disposal of older medications?