Birth control pills do expire.
More Info: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, oral contraceptives have a shelf life of three to five years depending on the manufacturer. This timeframe can be diminished if they are not stored in a cool dry location out of direct sunlight.
What Happens to Expired Pills?
Expired birth control pills are not poisonous or dangerous, especially immediately after their expiration date. However, they may not be as effective. Birth control pills are made of hormones. Hormones are not shelf stable for infinite periods of time; after a while, they begin to break down into other bio-compounds. While these compounds are not dangerous in the dose you will be taking in a daily pill, they do not perform the same function as the original hormones.
What Happens If You Take Expired Pills?
As stated above, taking expired pills will not kill you or even make you sick. However, the pills may not perform the function that they are intended to perform. This means that you can get pregnant while taking them. There is no use taking expired birth control pills because, while they may work, you cannot depend on them to do so. The hormones may have begun to break down, which means you are getting less than the necessary therapeutic dose of the medication.
What Can You Do If Your Pills Are Expired?
It is important to dispose of birth control pills and other medications appropriately. Do not throw them in your normal garbage can or flush them down the toilet. The hormones can interfere with other organisms’ life cycles or otherwise have a detrimental effect on the environment. Your birth control pills can be taken to a hazardous waste collection center or to a pharmacy, where trained personnel will know the best way to dispose of them.
You can also try to “recycle” your expired oral contraceptives by trading them for unexpired ones. If your pharmacist gave you birth control pills that expired during the period you were supposed to take them, return to the original pharmacist and ask them to exchange the expired pills for a fresh package.
It is important to keep track of the expiration date on all of your medications, but especially important with oral contraceptives. It is also especially crucial that you take the steps to dispose of them properly, because hormones in waterways are already having a detrimental effect on animal and plant life.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Contraceptive Shelf Life and Storage Conditions
Birth Control Basics
US Department of Health and Human Services
Birth Control Fact Sheet
County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works
How to Dispose of Unused or Expired Medication