Combat Confusing Drug Expiration Dates

Meds with unclear expiration dates will make news again.

We know these dates can be confusing...partly because no standard format is required, such as the order of the day, month, and year.

Now some Teva products made in Canada and sold in the U.S. show a two-letter month abbreviation that's mainly based on the French language.

Most are fairly straightforward...such as "FE" for February, "SE" for September, and "OC" for October.

But "MA" for May could be mistaken for March...and "JN" for June could be mistaken for January. Plus "MR" for March, "AL" for April, and "JL" for July may be less obvious.

Be prepared to combat drug expiration date issues.

When an expiration date on a med package isn't clear, check its outer carton. The date may be easier to read, since there's more space.

If you still can't determine the date, consider calling the manufacturer. Have the med's NDC and lot number ready...dial the company's main number...and ask to speak with someone in medical information.

Let your medication safety officer or inventory specialist know about the problem...whether you solve it or not. They can clarify the expiration date throughout your department...by creating a memo or adding labels or stickers to med packaging.

Plus they can ensure the problem is reported to FDA's MedWatch...to help your colleagues nationwide.

Stay tuned for more on preventing confusion with expiration dates. FDA and USP are working on ways to standardize them.

See our tech tutorial, Drug Expiration and Beyond-Use Dates, for tips on determining how long a med is good for...and keeping outdated meds from being dispensed.

Key References

  • ISMP Med Safety Alert! Acute Care 2019;24(19):1-4
  • https://opto.ca/sites/default/files/resources/documents/good_labels_and_packages
    _practices_guide_for_prescription_drugs_june_30_2016_eng.pdf (11-18-19)
Hospital Pharmacy Technician's Letter. December 2019, No. 351223



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