Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is used medically for pain relief. Like all medications, fentanyl does have an expiration date and can go out of date. Understanding fentanyl’s expiration and how long it remains effective can help ensure it is used safely and appropriately.
What is the shelf life of fentanyl?
The shelf life of fentanyl depends on the specific formulation:
- Injectable fentanyl vials are typically good for 24 months from the manufacture date when stored properly.
- Fentanyl transdermal patches expire after 12-18 months.
- Fentanyl lozenges or lollipops generally expire after 12-36 months.
- Fentanyl tablets and films may expire after 36-48 months.
The expiration date should be clearly printed on the packaging or vial. This is the date up until which the manufacturer guarantees the drug still meets quality and potency standards when stored correctly.
Does expired fentanyl immediately become unsafe or ineffective?
No, fentanyl does not necessarily immediately go “bad” or become dangerous to use right after its expiration date passes. With proper storage, injectable fentanyl can still be over 90% potent for at least 6 months after expiration. Transdermal patches may still deliver adequate dosing for weeks or months as well.
However, expired fentanyl patches or injections should not be used or saved for later use. The expiration date marks the recommended time period the drug should be used by. While not unsafe right after expiring, the drug may become less potent or more likely to degrade with longer storage past its expiration date.
What factors affect fentanyl’s shelf life?
Several factors impact how long fentanyl remains stable and effective before expiration:
- Temperature – Fentanyl should be stored between 68-77°F. Higher temperatures speed up degradation.
- Light exposure – Fentanyl is sensitive to light, which can accelerate breakdown of the drug.
- Opened vs unopened – Once a fentanyl vial is opened, it should be used within 30 days.
- Dosage form – Transdermal patches have shorter shelf lives than injectable vials.
Following the storage instructions, keeping fentanyl away from heat and light, and discarding opened vials after 30 days helps ensure the medication lasts until its labeled expiration date.
Is expired fentanyl dangerous?
Out of date fentanyl is not inherently dangerous if used as prescribed, but it does carry some risks:
- Reduced potency – Expired fentanyl may not provide adequate pain relief.
- Unpredictable dosing – Deterioration makes dosing less reliable.
- Infection – Bacterial growth in old vials can cause infection when injected.
Using fentanyl past its expiration also means it is no longer FDA-approved for safety and effectiveness. For these reasons, expired fentanyl should never be used and always disposed of properly.
How can you safely dispose of expired fentanyl?
It is important to safely dispose of any expired, unused fentanyl to prevent misuse, overdose, or environmental contamination. Recommended disposal methods include:
- Take-back programs – Many pharmacies have medication take-back programs to dispose of unused opioids safely.
- FDA flush list – Fentanyl is on the FDA’s flush list, meaning the medication can be mixed with kitty litter or coffee grounds before putting in the trash if take-back is not available.
- DEA take-back days – The DEA periodically hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events where fentanyl can be turned in.
Flushing expired fentanyl down the toilet or drain is acceptable but not ideal, as trace amounts can enter water supplies. Never throw patches or vials directly into the trash or reuse needles.
Can expired fentanyl patches still deliver medication?
Fentanyl patches contain a reservoir that slowly releases fentanyl through the skin over 72 hours. Old or expired patches can potentially still deliver some medication past expiration, but effectiveness cannot be guaranteed.
One study tested expired fentanyl patches of varying ages and found:
- Patches expired for up to 90 days delivered around 80% of the labeled dose.
- After 180 days, dose delivery declined to 60%.
- Varying temperature and humidity affected results.
So while out of date patches may still work somewhat, the dose delivered becomes unpredictable. Used patches also pose a significant overdose risk if misused.
Will expired fentanyl patches still stick to skin?
The adhesive on fentanyl patches can wear out over time, especially in hot conditions. Old or expired patches may not adhere well to the skin.
However, covering patches with adhesive dressings or tape can help keep them in place. The medication within can still be absorbed, even if the patch is loose or falls off before the full 72 hours.
Always dispose of used fentanyl patches by folding the sticky sides together and properly throwing away according to guidelines. Never flush patches as they can clog plumbing.
Can you safely use fentanyl after the expiration date?
It is never recommended to knowingly use expired medical products, including fentanyl. While not immediately dangerous, expired fentanyl carries risks such as:
- Reduced effectiveness
- Inaccurate dosing
- Loss of FDA approval
- Potential bacterial contamination
Expired fentanyl should always be disposed of through proper channels like take-back programs. Never save or reuse old fentanyl vials, patches, or other products. Speak to a pharmacist if you have any questions about disposal.
Does the expiration date matter if fentanyl is stored properly?
Yes, the labeled expiration date is still important even if fentanyl has been stored according to the manufacturer guidelines in a cool, dark place.
Proper storage extends the shelf life and delays drug breakdown, but it does not make fentanyl last indefinitely. The expiration date accounts for expected degradation over time, even with ideal storage.
Fentanyl should never be used past the printed expiration date on the label or packaging. The expiration date applies even if the product still looks normal and is stored properly.
What happens if you take expired fentanyl?
Using expired fentanyl is risky and not recommended, but in general:
- Injectable fentanyl may be less potent or not provide adequate pain relief.
- Transdermal patches may release lower, unpredictable doses.
- Side effects like nausea, headache, or dizziness may occur if degraded.
- Serious toxicity is unlikely if taken as prescribed, but risks increase if misused in higher amounts.
Speak to a doctor right away if you take expired fentanyl and notice reduced effectiveness, increased side effects, signs of infection, or symptoms of overdose like severe drowsiness, slow breathing, or loss of consciousness.
Does expired fentanyl pose a high risk of overdose?
No, taking expired fentanyl as prescribed is unlikely to cause fatal overdose on its own. However, the risk increases if it is misused or abused in higher than recommended amounts. Additional dangers include:
- Higher doses make degradation more likely to cause problems.
- Loss of potency means taking more seeking a high, increasing risk.
- Combining with alcohol or other drugs also raises overdose risk.
Never ingest multiple patches or injections, combine expired fentanyl with other substances, or take it in any way other than prescribed. Even with reduced potency, misusing expired fentanyl can result in overdose.
How long does it take for fentanyl to degrade after the expiration date?
Fentanyl does not immediately degrade into a useless or harmful substance the day after it expires. The breakdown occurs slowly over time. Research shows:
- Around 5-10% less fentanyl may be present in vials 6 months after expiration.
- Up to 20% loss of original concentration after 12 months.
- Up to 40% degradation after 2 years.
Rate of degradation depends on storage conditions like temperature and humidity. While not precise, fentanyl can be expected to slowly lose potency and quality over time after its expiration date.
What are signs fentanyl has degraded and expired?
Some signs that fentanyl may be expired or losing potency include:
- Cloudy or discolored injectable solution.
- Patches that do not properly adhere to skin.
- Tablets or capsules that are cracked, damaged, or stale.
- Change in texture or consistency.
- Loss of normal medicinal odor.
- Particulate matter visible in vials.
However, even fentanyl that looks normal with no obvious changes could still be past expiration and suboptimal for use. Always check and adhere to any expiration date.
Can expired fentanyl still get you high?
It is extremely dangerous, but yes, expired fentanyl still carries a high risk of overdose if misused to get high. Effects may be diminished, but even degraded fentanyl retains potency.
Dangers of trying to get high on expired fentanyl include:
- Harder to judge required dosage as strength varies.
- Higher risk of overdose due to taking more seeking a high.
- Can be just as fatal as non-expired if misused.
- Higher risk of addiction and dependence.
Expired or not, illegally using fentanyl to get high puts your life at serious risk. Seek help immediately if you or anyone you know may be misusing fentanyl.
Like any medication, fentanyl does expire and degrade over time. While not immediately dangerous, expired fentanyl should never knowingly be used or saved for later due to risks of unpredictable dosing, contamination, and misuse. Always properly dispose of any expired fentanyl products. Check expiration dates on any fentanyl and follow storage guidelines to help ensure it remains stable and effective for treating pain safely.