NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Have you ever reached for a pain reliever or other medicine only to find it has expired?

As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Friday night, you may not want to throw it away just yet.

You have probably run into an expired bottle of pills in your medicine cabinet plenty of times, whether over-the-counter or prescription. So what do you do next?

“I usually trash it after the expiration date,” said Charles Wegmann of the West Side.

“I’ve never taken any medication that was expired,” a woman said.

“I just took it, and I don’t know whether it was bad or not, but I’ve done it on more than one occasion,” said Bonnie White of Strasburg, Pa.

Some doctors said using an expired drug is probably safe, but only if you have a minor health issue such as a headache or sinus trouble. Experts said many medicines – especially tablets and capsules – have a shelf life well beyond the date on the bottle.

“The reality is because these expiration dates are so conservative – probably within five to 10 years from the time of the expiration date, the person can still try using their product,” said Dr. Sharon Bergquist of the Emory School of Medicine.

Manufacturers guarantee their drugs will be safe and fully effective up until the expiration date, which is usually one to five years after it is produced.

“But even with medications that are long expired, the amount of effectiveness is usually over 90 percent,” Bergquist said.

But certain medicines should never be used beyond the expiration date – precisely because they have lost some potency. And for critical, chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and epilepsy, even a small loss of potency can be risky.

“Nitroglycerin, which quickly loses its effectiveness after you open the bottle; insulin; vaccines; suspension-type antibiotics that you have to refrigerate; (and) eyedrops that are kept in a preservative bottle” should not be used beyond the expiration date, Bergquist said.

Expiration dates on medications are not like milk or food that goes bad or can be harmful after the date. They are about full potency – and thus, in taking expired medicine for a headache, the worst that can happen is it won’t work and you’ll still have a headache.

To help your medications stand the test of time, store them in their original containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. The medicine cabinet in your warm, moist bathroom is, in fact, probably the worst place in the house to keep your medications.

The kitchen, where people also keep medications, can also be warm and humid. The linen closet would be a good option away from any heat source.

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