Medications : how do we understand expiration dates? : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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The expectation of the pharmaceutical industry is that medication expiration dates are automatically understood by consumers. There is a complexity to this interpretation that has not been fully studied. The main aim of this research is to explore how prescription medication expiration dates, are understood by the consumer. An in-depth interviewing, narrative method was used to gain valid and detailed discourse of the individuals perspective of why expiry dates are used by pharmaceutical companies, how it influenced their decisions on storage and/or disposal, and individual views on recycling and/or redistribution of excess and/or expired medications to those in need. Twenty people were interviewed, from varied demographics, using a questionnaire guide, consisting of 18 questions, aimed at gaining information on their personal opinions of pharmaceutical expiration dates. The main findings revealed by the narratives, were that medication expiration dates were only an indication of best efficacy and not something that would cause any serious harm. Interestingly, there was no consensus on the types of medications most effected by expiration dates, or which medications the individual would consume after expiry. The analysis showed that most of the subjects would, and had used expired medications at some point, and were not concerned about experiencing any major side effects. It was also found that a high percentage of participants thought the use of expiry dates on medications, to be a marketing strategy by pharmaceutical companies, in order to generate more sales. Knowledge of the process of disposing of expired medications was limited, and only one participant had any knowledge of the concept of programs to redistribute medication. Support for such programs received mixed results. The majority of participants felt that the risk of taking expired medicine was not a concern; however this only applied to the patient themselves and all would not dispense expired medications to another family member, particularly mothers to children. In summary, the findings of this research highlighted the gap in consumer knowledge of medication expiration dates, the categories of medication most effected by age and for uncovering new ways to examine expired medication for deterioration and efficacy. It was shown that consumers are positive about investigating redistributive programs which could facilitate excess/expired medications reaching those in need and to drastically minimise excessive, current global medication wastage.