Expiry dates on some drugs “meaningless” lawsuit charges

Headache and cold pills and painkillers may be safe well beyond their best before dates class action suit alleges.

Three big drug multinationals are bilking billions of dollars from consumers by telling them to throw away still good but expired headache and cold pills, three class action lawsuits allege.

The lawsuits target Bayer Healthcare for Bayer Aspirin, Pfizer for Advil and Johnson & Johnson and McNeil-PPC for Tylenol Cold Multi-Symptom medications.

“If stored properly, these medications can and do remain chemical stable, safe and effective long after those dates,” each of the lawsuits said.

Government agencies require drug companies to test over-the-counter drugs “only up until a date of the manufacturer’s own choosing,” the lawsuits said. “That date becomes the so-called expiration date.”

The lawsuits, filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court on Oct. 22, don’t object to the expiration dates

themselves, but to the drug companies and drug lobby groups’ practice of telling consumers to throw out the medications past the expiry dates.

“The purpose behind this scheme is to increase sales and profits,” the lawsuits claim.

All three legal petitions cite medical journals and medical studies that found prescription medicine expiry dates can be valid but not for common over-the-counter drugs.

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide cites a U. S. Food and Drug Administration study that 90 per cent of more than 100 drugs, prescription and over-the-counter, “were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.”

If drug companies had to test their products for more than three years, the Harvard guide said, it would add considerably to their development costs.

The FDA study found the average extra shelf life of the drugs tested was five years. The U. S. military saved itself $260 million in five years by not discarding expired drugs, the study said.

On its Advanced Aspirin web site, Bayer advises consumers: “It is not recommended to use any over-the-counter product beyond the labelled expiration date.”

The over-the-counter drug group, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association,

advises on its website that consumers should “discard products whose dates are past the expiration date listed on the package.”

The lawsuits ask the court to award damages to the all of the consumers affected; to require the drug companies to explain “expiration dates” on their packages and to tell consumers how long the medicines are truly safe and effective.

“Pfizer has not been served with the complaint, but we believe the claims are without merit and intend to vigorously defend this action,” the company told the Toronto Star in an email.

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Expiry dates on some drugs “meaningless” lawsuit charges