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Why you should never buy over-the-counter medications at Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club, the bulk warehouse shopping retailer owned by Walmart, can be an excellent place for families to stock up on necessities while saving quite a bit of cash. Paper towels, toilet paper, and non-perishable food items are often hot buys at places like Sam’s Club since they last indefinitely, and it can be tempting to stock up on other household essentials too, like over-the-counter medications. If you’re someone who takes aspirin regularly or who tends to carry a bottle of Pepto around in your purse, getting more of your go-to remedies for your buck may seem like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, you may not be getting the deal you’re hoping for if you buy these drugs at Sam’s Club.

The main issue is that you may not be able to use all of the medicine before it expires (via Cheat Sheet). When you buy a fresh bottle of Advil at a regular pharmacy, you can generally be assured that it is fresh, and because you are buying one bottle at a time, it is likely you’ll go through it well before it reaches its expiration date. However, if you buy a bulk package of the same medication, all of those bottles are likely to share an expiration date (or at least not be far off from each other), and unless you are treating a small army’s worth of bumps, bruises, and headaches, you will likely need to throw out the extra drugs before they can be used. 

Drugs lose effectiveness over time

Will popping an expired aspirin hurt you? In all likelihood, as long as it has been stored and handled properly, and it didn’t expire too long ago, the answer is probably not. But it also may not help you much. According to an FDA study discussed by Harvard University, drugs do lose effectiveness over time, though how long it takes and whether the drug is still safe and effective long past its posted expiration date really depends on the drug. The study actually showed that some medicines were effective even fifteen years after they “expired,” but the FDA doesn’t recommend you take that risk.

Harvard clarifies that expiration dates are very conservative and exist to ensure you are getting everything you paid for. If you have a splitting headache and it’s important the drug you’re about to take is fully effective, it’s probably a good idea to grab a new bottle rather than using one that expired a couple years back. When it doubt, always as your pharmacist. So, in short, since it is unlikely your family will be able to go through a bulk package of medication before it risks becoming less effective, you may want to stick to buying individual packages at a time from your regular retailer. 

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