Friday 17 May 2019


By Dr Brighton Chireka

This picture has gone viral and some people are shocked and are calling the government all sorts of names. Unknown to some people is that this has been ongoing for the last 12 months or so. In short there is nothing wrong being done. It’s only that the media is taking advantage of the fact that most of us do not understand how expiry dates are calculated. It is a good story to sell papers but we need to set the record straight so that we can objectively view the situation.

Drug manufacturers are required by law to place expiration dates on prescription products prior to marketing. The expiration date is the final day that the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of a medication. Let me make it clear that it is not the date that the product becomes toxic or ineffective. It may be surprising to know that for most drugs , it’s an arbitrary date, usually 2 or 3 years out, that the manufacturer selects to test drug stability. In all actuality, the stability of the drug may be much longer, but no one tests it.

We know that once the original container is opened , either by patient or the health care provider who will dispense the drug , that original expiration date on the container can no longer be relied upon. However studies have shown that the actual shell life of these drugs may be much longer than the expiration date on the packet.

So do drugs lose their effectiveness sooner after the expiration date?

The American Medical Association (AMA) concluded in 2001 that the actual shelf life of some products is longer than the labeled expiration date. The AMA stated the best evidence resides in the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) undertaken by the FDA for the USA Department of Defense. This study found that drugs were still effective 12 months to 184 months ( over 15 years) after the expiration date.

What does that mean to us ?
This does not mean that if you have expired drugs in your house you can use them without seeking medical advice. The study shows that if expired drugs are tested by medical experts and found to be effective then they can be used for a certain period.

If wholesalers have more drugs than they need and some have expired it does not make any sense to throw them away and let people go without treatment. Treatment need to continue so if expired drugs can be safely used then they should whilst the supplies are being sorted. This obviously must not be norm but can be used in situations of shortages.

The drugs we are talking about are those that are still with the wholesalers where they are being kept under strict conditions. We know that effectiveness of drugs is affected by heat, humidity, light, and other storage factors. In view of this only drugs that are tested by medical experts should be used.

So what should we do with the message in this picture?

We must commend the health professionals for coming up in the open about the drugs they are giving people. They could have lied and just give people medication in different packets which is unethical and immoral. Now for being honest and upfront about it we are “attacking” them. There is nothing wrong they are doing. We should take the medication as instructed and go for regular checks. If we experience any unusual side effects we should urgently go back to our doctors.

I hope this clarifies this issue . I welcome your comments on this .


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