Dispensing expired medication is known as a prescription error and is a type of medical malpractice. An expiration date is a guarantee of potency from the manufacturer. If medication is used after this date, the company is not responsible for its potency level or effectiveness. Additionally, pharmacists are not allowed to dispense expired prescription medications. Over-the-counter medications should not be sold once their expiration date passes.
History of Medication Expiration Dates
Since 1979, the United States Food and Drug Administration requires both prescription and over-the-counter medications to include expiration dates to let pharmacists and consumers know that the medication is safe to take and will work. If someone takes medication after it expired, it is possible that the medication will not be effective and could even be dangerous.
Expired Medication Safety Concerns
Expired medication presents some serious safety concerns. These include:
- Bacterial growth or mold on medications.
- Antibiotic resistance.
- Misuse or abuse.
- Accidental ingestion by pets or children.
- Formulations change or degrade over time.
More research into expired medication safety is needed to fully understand what could happen when you take outdated medications. The list above highlights only some of the potential problems. While it is unlikely that consuming expired medication will poison you, some formulas are unsafe after a long period of time.
Expired Medication Laws
According to the FDA’s Expiration Dating and Stability Testing for Human Drug Products guide, any medications packaged after the law went into effect is enough to start regulatory action. The expiration date is not always an indicator of safety, as some medications are still potent after their expiration date. However, some medications, such as insulin, are less stable.
If you take medication after its expiration date and get sick, the manufacturer does not face the same liability as it would if the medication had not expired. A pharmacist that fills a prescription with expired medication breaks the law and puts your health at risk. Hospitals, nursing homes, and doctors that provide patients with medication can also be held liable for the damage that expired medications cause. This includes any free samples medical practices give to patients.
Ways to Properly Dispose of Expired Medication
Once a medication passes its expiration date, it is important to properly dispose of it. This reduces the risk of personal and environmental harm. It is not a good idea to throw out medications in most residential garbage cans. Some ways you can safely dispose of expired medication are:
- Participating in a local pharmacy’s drug take-back program.
- Mixing medications with dirt, kitty litter, or coffee grounds and placing it in a sealed plastic bag to put in the trash.
- Flushing certain used medications down the toilet.
- Sending back medications through the DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.
There are other programs that can help you process expired medications safely. If you have any questions about how to safely dispose of expired medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist for recommendations. There are likely other local medication take-back programs in your area.
Expired Medication and Pharmacy Malpractice
Depending on how you gain access to the expired medication, the type of malpractice case you can pursue will vary. Generally, pharmacy malpractice occurs when the pharmacist dispenses the harmful drug to the patient. However, other medical providers such as doctors, nurses, and facilities also provide medication to patients. In these cases, where the medication is not “dispensed,” you could have a medical malpractice case.
Each state has different laws regarding malpractice lawsuits involving medications. States may have different regulations based on the type of place that you get the medication from. The definition of pharmacy may vary. For instance, compounding pharmacies may face different laws than if the medication is given to you as a sample in your doctor’s office. Pharmacists have an obligation to confirm dosage instructions and identify potential problems with medication before patients take it.
If you are hurt by a prescription medication, it is best to discuss your legal options with an attorney. They can discuss the specifics of your case and determine the correct path forward based on the laws that apply in your state.
Your Possible Legal Case
Technological advances make it easier to track medication expiration dates and to alert providers about recalls. However, prescription errors continue to happen, despite the commitment that doctors and pharmacists have to a high standard of care. If you or a loved one suffered because of a medication error, it is possible that you have a legal case to pursue compensation for medical bills, fees, and pain and suffering. Call Pintas & Mullins Law Firm at (800) 842-6336 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your potential legal case.