Anne McMaster, a retired nurse in Seattle with a serious allergy to bees, used to buy a new EpiPen every year when her current one expired. That stopped about three years ago when her out-of-pocket costs for the potentially life-saving medication spiked and she couldn't afford the higher price. Instead, she just kept her old injector, figuring an expired EpiPen is better than no EpiPen at all.

"I would never tell anyone else to do it because of the risks of it not working," McMaster says. "But for me, it was a risk I had to take."

Although there are some lower-cost alternative injectors on the market, and Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, says it is introducing programs to make the device more affordable for consumers, many Americans are wondering whether it is indeed okay to use expired EpiPens.

It's important to replace your epinephrine injector before the expiration date stamped on the pen. That’s because epinephrine deteriorates over time and relying on an outdated one (past the standard 12- to 18-month expiration date) can leave you with an auto-injector that's less effective, or not effective at all, when you most need it.

But what should you do if you are having an allergic emergency and the only injector you have is an expired one? It's probably better to use it than not, some experts say. 

"If a patient were to experience an allergic emergency that required use of epinephrine and the only injector available was an outdated one, I would use it," says Andrew Murphy, M.D., a board-certified allergist at the Asthma, Allergy and Sinus Center in West Chester, Pa. "The risk would be that the epinephrine would have degraded and you may not get an optimal dose."

An April 2015 study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology looked at 35 expired EpiPens and found that injectors that were up to two years past their expiration date could retain 90 percent or more of the initial dose listed on labeling.

Murphy stresses that you shouldn't use any injector, even if it's technically not expired, if the medicine is pink or brown (instead of colorless), cloudy, or contains solid particles. In that case, "the medicine clearly has decayed and the injector should not be used at all," Murphy says.  

Murphy also says that anytime you use an auto-injector—expired or not—you should call 911 or go to the emergency room, even if the shot seems to be working. That's because severe allergic reactions can require more than just a shot of epinephrine.

Storing and Disposing EpiPens

Be sure to store epinephrine auto-injector properly. And that doesn't mean in the refrigerator: Extremes of heat or cold can degrade the medicine, as can exposure to light and humidity. So while you might need to carry one around with you, when you are at home or work store it at room temperature in a dry, dark place. And while it might be tempting to keep a spare in the glove compartment of your car, that's probably not a good idea because it can get too hot or cold, in there. If your child needs one while at school, ask the nurse to keep it. Many schools have special lockers for such medicines.

It's also important to properly dispose of expired EpiPens or used injectors, says Barbara Young, Pharm.D., of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. 

Auto-injectors thrown into in your household trash could prick or injure people or pets in your home. Instead, if you've used the injector, give the device to the healthcare professional you saw afterward. Take expired EpiPens to a doctor’s office, hospital, or pharmacy for disposal, Young says.

You can find a drop-off location near you at  

A final tip: When filling an EpiPen prescription, ask the pharmacist to give you auto-injectors with the latest expiration date.

Editor's Note: This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).