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Expired medicine sold in New York City stores

August 8, 2011

This article was reported by the staff of the Princeton Summer Journal and written by Katherine Arellano, Anhar Farag and Jimmy Tang.

NEW YORK – Despite several recent high-profile lawsuits by New York State authorities, some New York City drug stores and pharmacies continue to stock expired medications, a Summer Journal investigation has found.

On Tuesday, 21 student reporters visiting more than 20 stores in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx found dozens of expired over-the-counter medications – ranging from infant vitamin supplements to anti-nausea medication to pain relievers – at several large chain stores, including CVS, Duane Reade, Rite Aid and Walgreens.

Though the vast majority of medications examined at those stores were not expired, New York law prohibits the sale of any over-the-counter medications after the date “marked upon the label as indicative of the date beyond which the contents cannot be expected beyond reasonable doubt to be safe and effective.”

In addition, most drug stores’ official policies require the immediate removal of expired medications from store shelves. For example, according to the CVS website, “[M]edications will work only as well as they are handled. Taking them safely means storing them properly, reading all specific instructions carefully, and not using them after the recommended amount of time or expiration date.”

Lawsuits

Expired medications have been a recurring issue with several major drug store chains. In 2003, CVS was cited by New York State officials for having expired medications on store shelves. In response, the company signed an “Assurance of Discontinuance,” stating that it would “refrain from selling expired [over-the-counter] drugs” and would institute procedures to ensure that expired over-the-counter drugs were identified and removed from CVS stores.

Then, between March and May 2008, the New York Attorney General’s office discovered that 140 New York CVS stores – about 60 percent of the locations it inspected – were selling expired drugs, infant formula, milk and eggs, some more than two years past expiration.

In November 2009, New York State reached an $875,000 settlement with CVS aimed at ending its sale of expired products. CVS had approximately 430 stores in New York State at the time.

Rite Aid also has a history of stocking expired medications. A 2008 investigation by the New York Attorney General found expired medications on shelves in 43 percent of Rite Aid stores visited.

In December 2008, New York State reached a $1.3 million settlement with Rite Aid, which had approximately 710 stores in the state as of the date of the settlement.

Despite these settlements, the Summer Journal’s investigation revealed that these chains, along with other drug stores, continue to sell expired medications in New York City.

For example, Summer Journal reporters found acetaminophen that expired in March 2011 at a CVS at 224 East 161st Street in the Bronx, and ibuprofen that expired in March 2011 at a Walgreens at 3355 Crescent St. # 67 in Long Island City, Queens.

Reporters also found expired over-the-counter medications and vitamin supplements at Duane Reade stores in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, including FiberCon that expired in December 2010 at the Duane Reade located at 54-11 Myrtle Ave. in Brooklyn; Zyrtec allergy medication that expired in December 2010 at the Duane Reade located at 2939 3rd Ave. in the Bronx; and Florastor children’s vitamin supplements that expired in June 2011 at the Duane Reade located at 60 Spring St. in Manhattan.

In addition, reporters found expired hemorrhoids treatment cream at a Rite Aid at 355 Knickerbocker Ave. in Brooklyn and expired niacin supplements at the Rite Aid at 2125 Broadway in Astoria, Queens.

Reporters also found expired medications at some smaller, non-chain stores. For example, at Shawn Pharmacy & Surgical in Bushwick, Brooklyn, reporters found infant vitamin supplements that had expired in December 2010, Daily Care Stridex and Oxy Spot Treatment skin care products that had expired in December 2009, and sunscreen that had expired in January 2010.

In a similar investigation in 2008, the Summer Journal discovered that numerous stores in Trenton were also stocking expired over-the-counter medications.

Corporate response

When asked for comment last week, corporate representatives said their companies work hard to keep expired medications off store shelves.

“We take these allegations very seriously and will be investigating them fully,” Rite Aid spokesman Eric Harkreader said in an email. “Our policy has always been to not have outdated products on our shelves. If a customer were to receive an expired product in error, we would issue a full refund.”

CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis said that CVS is “fully committed to preventing expired products from being sold to customers.”

“We have a clear product removal policy in place at all of our stores to help ensure that items are removed from store shelves before they reach their expiration dates, which includes weekly audits of date coded items,” DeAngelis said in an email. “While we strive for 100 percent compliance with our product removal procedures, no process this labor intensive – a typical CVS store carries about 100,000 items – is immune from human error and any unintentional oversight that is brought to our attention is quickly rectified for customers.”

Expired foods

In addition to expired over-the-counter medications, reporters found expired food products on store shelves, including baby food, dairy products and breakfast cereal.

For example, a Jack Links Original Beef Stick that expired in December 2010 was found at a Duane Reade in Manhattan at 976 Amsterdam Ave.

The assistant manager for that location, Jonathan Cedeno, said that his employees try diligently to keep expired food products off the shelves. He explained that his store keeps a monthly “fresh list,” wherein perishable products are prioritized and organized by categories.

Nevertheless, Cedeno admitted that his store was short on staff, making it difficult to keep up with expiring products and to subsequently remove them.

Reporters observed several stores that displayed signs instructing customers to bring expired products to the store employees’ attention. But when Summer Journal reporters asked customers if they felt they were responsible for checking expiration dates, several said no.

Duane Reade customer Peter Ratray said that it was the “management’s job, absolutely,” to check products’ expiration dates.

“There is enough to deal with in life than to not trust your drug store,” he said.