Expired Hydrocodone: Rules of Storage and Dangers of Taking Old Opioids

Last Updated: June 3, 2020

Authored by Olivier George, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

As an opiate painkiller, hydrocodone is taken by many in the United States. However, the substance is also expensive, especially if required for long periods. This can sometimes lead to people choosing to take expired medication, rather than taking a newly purchased drug. So does taking an expired drug affect health? Is hydrocodone ER a drug that can expire and does effective storage change its shelf life?

Does Hydrocodone Expire?

Like all drugs, opioids have an expiration date. However, according to Harvard Medical School, 90% of drugs are perfectly fine to use for up to 100 years after they have expired. Despite this, it is not recommended to take drugs after their expiry date, as even a 10% chance could lead to an unwanted situation, with unpredictable side effects of hydrocodone.
In this 10% of cases, expired hydrocodone acetaminophen goes through a chemical balance change due to aging, rendering it a danger.

How Long Is Hydrocodone Good For?

red medicinal cabinet with prescription pills on the wallThe shelf life of hydrocodone is between 12 and 36 months. However, in many cases, it can last far beyond its expiry date. Despite usually being safe, expired Hydrocodone always comes with a slight risk. An old drug can have unpredictable effects so it is better to look for physical signs that the substance may be going bad. For these reasons, it is better to take caution and only consume pure hydrocodone as well as the combination drugs when they are within expiry dates.

What Are The Possible Dangers Of Taking Expired Hydrocodone?

On most occasions, there is no danger from taking expired hydrocodone. However, drugs can sometimes become less potent. This leads to the person taking more and more of the medicine, thus getting used to the larger number of pills consumed every day. Taking more of the substance is part of the cause of hydrocodone overdose deaths.

Consequences of taking expired opioid could include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Taking more of the substance to get the same effect (due to the drugs lower potency) – Easier to overdose and become addicted
  • Unforeseen physical and psychological issues (unrelated to normal side effects)
  • Sweating

How To Keep This Opioid Properly

Keeping the medication properly will ensure it lasts longer and to the full extent of its lifespan. The substance should be stored in a cool, dry place at room temperature. This is because excessive sunlight and moisture could alter the composition of the drug. In addition, extreme heat or cold could do the same. Hydrocodone/chlorpheniramine er suspension should also be stored in the same manner.

How To Dispose Of Expired Hydrocodone

When hydrocodone expires, like any substance, it should be correctly disposed of. According to the US Food And Drug Administration, the best and safest way to do this is to do as follows:

  1. Mix the medication with an unpalatable substance, such as dirt or cat litter. Ensure one does this without crushing the tablets.
  2. Place the mixture a sealed plastic bag, usually zip top.
  3. Throw the bag into household waste bin.
  4. Remove all personal information from the empty medication container.

By completing this process, it ensures that people who have not been prescribed the drug do not get hold of it and use it for an illegal high. Other options for disposing of old expired medication include flushing the medication or take back services, where the state disposes of the drug.

Where to Get Help With Opioid Abuse

Taking a drug after expiry date can lead to its effects being lessened. This often causes people to take more of the substance and quickly become addicted to it. Because of this, it is important to check hydrocodone expiration and to look out for the signs of addiction to opioids.
If one does become addicted to this medication, there are a number of types of treatment programs available. For the most suitable treatment, contact a medical professional. They will help and guide through each option, and to weigh up the pros and cons of each.


Page Sources

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/drug-expiration-dates-do-they-mean-anything
  2. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/consumers/buyingusingmedicinesafely/ensuringsafeuseofmedicine/safedisposalofmedicines/ucm186188.htm

Published on: September 21st, 2018

Updated on: June 3rd, 2020

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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