Pharmaceutical FAQ's

Patients often have questions about drug expiration dates:

  • Can I safely take a medication if it has reached the drug expiration date?
  • Are there recommendations about the best way to store my medications?
  • Which drugs should never be used past their expiration date?

For many patients, these questions arise because medications can be expensive and it is costly to frequently replace expired but unused medications.

What is a generic drug?

A generic drug is a medication that has exactly the same active ingredient as the brand name drug and yields the same therapeutic effect. It is the same in dosing, safety, strength, quality, the way it works, the way it is taken, and the way it should be used. Generic drugs do not need to contain the same inactive ingredients as the brand name product.

However, a generic drug can only be marketed after the brand name drug’s patent has expired, which may take up to 20 years after the patent holder’s drug is first filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Generic drugs are usually much less expensive than brand name drugs once they reach the market.

A drug company develops new drugs as brand name drugs under patent protection. This protects their investment in drug research by giving the drug company the sole right to manufacture and sell the brand name drug while the patent is in effect.

When patents or other periods of exclusivity expire, other manufacturers can submit an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) to the FDA for approval to market a generic version of the brand name drug.

You should not be afraid to take your medication because of the possibility of a drug interaction. Drug interactions can be intimidating for anyone who regularly takes prescription medications, but you can learn how to manage and prevent them.

Drugs with a narrow therapeutic index (that is, having little difference between toxic and therapeutic doses), and certain disease states like epilepsy or depression are especially prone to serious drug interactions. In addition, multiple interactions may occur when someone is taking several drugs, as is often the case with older patients.

Pros and Cons of Prescription Medicine

If the FDA considers a medication safe enough to approve, that means its benefits outweigh its known risks. The medications you take play an important role in your overall health. However, all medications have side effects, warnings and drug interactions, so it’s important to understand your treatments, expected results, and alternative medical options.1

  • The benefits of medicines are the helpful effects you get, such as easing pain, controlling blood sugar, lowering blood pressure, or curing an infection.
  • The risks of medicines are the possible unwanted or unexpected effects that might happen to you when you use them. Risks can be minor, like a mild upset stomach, or more serious, such as an increased risk of bleeding or liver damage.

The half-life of a drug is an estimate of the period of time that it takes for the concentration or amount in the body of that drug to be reduced by exactly one half (50%). The symbol for half-life is T½.

For example, if 100mg of a drug with a half-life of 60 minutes is taken, the following is estimated:

  • 60 minutes after administration, 50mg remains
  • 120 minutes after administration, 25mg remains
  • 180 minutes after administration, 12.5mg remains
  • 240 minutes after administration, 6.25mg remains
  • 300 minutes after administration, 3.125mg remains.

In theory, we can see that after 300 minutes, almost 97% of this drug is expected to have been eliminated. Most drugs are considered to have a negligible effect after four-to-five half-lives. However, this does not mean that won’t be detectable, for example, during a drug test. Just that they will have no effect.

Why split tablets?

Use of medications for chronic illnesses, such as hypertension, diabetes, or high cholesterol – all common U.S. conditions – can often run into the thousands of dollars per year. Rising healthcare costs often force consumers to try innovative ways to save a portion of their healthcare dollar. Splitting tablets in half is a practice that some patients, employers, healthcare providers, and even health insurance and managed care companies are now recommending. Tablet splitting under the direction of a healthcare provider can be safe and save you money, too.

  • You should always check with your doctor or pharmacist first to make sure splitting their pill is a safe and economical choice.

Splitting tablets – actually cutting them in half – may save you up to 50 percent off of the cost of your medication. 

Other questions

Taking charge of your health means understanding your medical treatment. We believe that everyone has a right to understand their treatments – why the medications have been prescribed, and what the possible side effects are.

Our goal is to provide clear information about drugs sold in the USA, at a level everyone can comprehend. For consumers, we provide product information in non-technical language. Health professionals will find what they need in the FDA Product Label Professional Information database.

Information supplied by Multum and Wolters Kluwer is updated monthly and information supplied by Micromedex and PDR is updated quarterly. The date of last update is displayed at the very bottom of each page. News & Articles and New Drugs areas are updated daily.

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