Note: For informational use only. Please comply with all local, state, and federal laws regarding the use, procurement, and storage of prescription and other medications.
Most oral medications are given a rather arbitrary expiration date which may vary depending on the manufacture date, sell date, or type of medicine and concern over poor storage environments at home. Some manufacturers of medications indicate their desire to have their medicines expire, because they want patients to have up to date information about the medicine on the newer packaging.
The Pentagon shelf-life extension program has shown that many medications are safe and completely effective many years after the expiration date listed on the product, especially if stored in a favorable environment. This is also extensively supported with numerous articles found by looking up “Myth of Medication Expirations” on the internet.
Many drugs stored under favorable conditions retain over 90% of their potency for at least five years beyond the expiration date on the label, and sometimes much much longer. Ciprofloxacin, for instance, was found to be completely safe and effective when tested nearly 10 years after the expiration date. Some medications appear to be more stable and therefore retain a greater amount of potency after expiration; these seem to include Cipro, Flagyl, lidocaine, atropine and possibly the penicillins.
Some medications are more unstable and do have an expiration such as insulin, nitroglycerin, aspirin and water purification tablets. A disputed article in one publication suggests expired Tetracycline may have caused toxicity in one patient (personally I don’t believe it since I am sure millions of doses of expired tetracycline have been used in 3rd world countries with no other reported complications; also, that old formulation of tetracycline is no longer available anyway, so I would be willing to expired tetracycline if I needed the medication). I am not aware of any other expired antibiotics having this risk.
Preferred storage environments would be cool, dark, and dry. Blister packaged medications might be preferable because they are kept dry and are waterproof but have the disadvantage of being slightly more bulky. Tablets are typically more stable and therefore have longer storage life than do elixirs/liquids. Many medications may be ordered over the internet as pet medications. Quality controls for pet medications seem good and I would be willing to use them on myself in an emergency.
The below is a list of commonly encountered medications that you might want to know about, and I would recommend finding a drug dose reference book from a bookstore or the internet; sometimes you can find them very inexpensively from book sections at Christian/Salvation Army stores.
(It is not considered appropriate medical standard of care to use pet medications on yourself; therefore I cannot recommend it to you. You might be able to get a prescription for medication designed for human consumption from your physician. If your pet fish gets sick, however, after consulting your local vet, you could try treating your pet with one of these antibiotics.)
Analgesics (pain relievers)
4) hydrocodone (narcotic)
5) oxycodone (narcotic)
6) propoxyfene (narcotic)
8) meperidine (narcotic)
9) morphine (narcotic)
10) dilaudid (narcotic)
11) combinations- often hydrocodone, oxycodone and propoxifine are
made with acetominophen
Antibiotics (to kill bacteria)
1) penicillin and penicillin-like medications (usually end
in ….”cillin” for example ampicillin, amoxicillin,
methacillin, oxacillin, nafcillin etc.)
2) cephalosporins (usually begin with or contain “cef”…like
cefuroxime or duracef) Use with caution with a person who is highly penicillin allergic.
3) floroquinolones-avoid in children when possible (usually end
in … “floxacin” like Ciprofloxacin, Levofloxacin, Moxifloxacin,
4) Macrolides (usually end with …”mycin” like Azithromycin,
5) Sulfa (Bactrim DS, Septra DS,Bacrtim,Septra)
6) Tetracyclins- avoid tetracycline in children if possible-can damage teeth (usually
end with…”cycline” like tetracylcine,doxycycline etc.)
7) Misc (Flagyl-metronidazole),clindamycin
Antifungals (kill fungus-usually end in ..”azole”)
1) fluconazole (Diflucan)
Miscellaneous oral meds
1) Anti-diarrhea meds – like Imodium
2 ) antinausea-like phenergan or Zofran
These above medications may be critical to avoid dehydration
(possibly deadly) from gastrointestinal infection.
3) vitamins – shelf life data is unavailable
4) diphenhydramine (Benadryl) – could be lifesaving in the event of
Topical agents (applied to skin)
1) hydrocortisone ointment-used to treat poison ivy, insect bites,
hemorrhoids and other non-infected processes
2) antibiotic ointment
3) antifungal creams-helps with athlete’s foot or jock itch
4) Sun block
5) Vaseline/Chapstick- either can be used on the lips or bottom
6) skin cleansing agents- Betadine, Hibiclens (best skin cleaner),
alcohol (can be a fuel as well)
7) Ambesol or other oral pain relieving gel
1) Epipen-to treat severe allergic reaction
2) lidocaine-numbs the skin-can be topical but is more effective as injection at area of wound or pain. Lidocaine with epinephrine should
NOT be injected at tips of extremities/tip of nose/ears etc. because the epinephrine can constrict blood vessels to those areas causing tissue death.
— Editors Note: a reader pointed out this study, which says that propoxyfene, commonly known as Darvocet, was pulled in 2010 due to it potentially causing cardiac toxicity even in therapeutic doses. That being said, if you need short-term pain relief in a SHTF situation and it’s all you have, you may choose to use it in favor of the immediate benefits as opposed to the long-term effects. As with everything, use your best judgment for the scenario you’re in.