Does Plan B Expire? What to Know About Shelf Life and Storage

Individuals are now turning to emergency contraceptives such as Plan B to help prevent pregnancy and retain some autonomy over reproductive choices.

Box of plan B contraceptive pill
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Fact checked on June 29, 2022 by Vivianna Shields, a journalist and fact-checker with experience in health and wellness publishing.

On the heels of the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling being overturned by the Supreme Court, there's been a rush to stock up on emergency contraception or "morning after" pills across the country.

Within 24 hours after the court's decision to end federal protection of abortions, one online health company reported a 600% surge in orders for the morning-after pill, which is widely referred to as Plan B and works to prevent uwnanted pregnancy. At the same time, drug store chains like CVS and RiteAid began rationing or placing temporary limits on purchases of Plan B and similar medications to avoid shortages.

Individuals are now looking to emergency contraceptives such as Plan B to help prevent pregnancy after having sex and to retain some autonomy over their reproductive choices. For those purchasing and storing the morning after pill, here's what you need to know about its shelf life, as well as its effectiveness and safety over time.

Do Plan B Pills Have an Expiration Date?

The short answer is yes, every medication has an expiration date and that includes emergency contraception such as Plan B. When storing the medication for later use it is important to be aware of the expiration date on the product's packaging. It can usually be found on the side of the box.

The fact sheet for Plan B One-Step, which is one of the many brand names for morning after pills (others include Take Action, My Way, and Option 2), makes clear that it expires after four years. Other brands have varying expirations. Ella, which requires a prescription to obtain, lasts about three years.

"When you purchase emergency contraceptive pills at the pharmacy or grocery store or order them online, you should expect there to be a minimum of one year and up to several years before it expires," Sally Rafie, PharmD, a pharmacist specialist with UC San Diego Health told Health. "Always check the exact date on the package for the expiration date."

While taking a morning after pill after it has expired may not necessarily be dangerous, it's generally not a good idea.

"As a physician, I never recommend taking expired medication," Aparna Sridhar, MD, an OB-GYN with UCLA Health, told Health. "Not just because of the efficacy, but you just don't know why the expiration date may be what it is. So safety and efficacy are the two major concerns."

There's no data on adverse events resulting from the use of expired emergency contraceptive pills, added Dr. Sridhar, but less effective medication may result in unplanned pregnancy.

"As a provider, I worry that if less effectiveness is translating to unplanned pregnancy then there is an indirect concern about the safety," Dr. Sridhar said. "I would still strongly encourage using a non-expired medication."

Rafie offers similar advice noting that "while it won't harm you to take an expired emergency contraceptive pill, it may not work as well as it usually does."

"It's best to get another dose that's not expired," said Rafie.

How to Store Plan B

You can help ensure morning after medication lasts as long as possible by storing it as directed. Generally this includes storing the product at room temperature between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Storing it at room temperature are the guidelines and recommendations given by pharmacists," said Dr. Sridhar. "The medication is available on the shelf now in pharmacies, so room temperature is a safe way to store it."

It's also a good idea not to store the medication in locations where it would be exposed to high temperatures such as bathrooms during hot showers, said Rafie. Instead, she suggested keeping the pills in your bedroom nightstand.

Should You Stockpile Plan B?

For those who are not using a reliable method of contraception, it's a good idea to have emergency contraception available, said Dr. Sridhar.

"Or perhaps if you're traveling or you know you may be in a place where it may not be readily available, you can get an advance prescription of emergency contraception," said Dr. Sridhar.

With the exception of Ella, which requires a prescription from a nurse or doctor, morning after pills are generally available over the counter to individuals of any age at major retail pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart, according to Planned Parenthood. The cost of the medication varies from $11 to $50.

"But availability really depends on your local pharmacies and what they want to carry," added Dr. Sridhar.

A recent NPR report, for instance, pointed out that Ella is only available at 5% of pharmacies nationwide.

"It's always good to call and double check if you don't see them in the pharmacy," said Dr. Sridhar.

Morning after pills, including Ella, can also be purchased through online pharmacies. But it's important to keep in mind that timing is critical when taking the morning after pill, meaning online orders may not arrive quickly enough to be effective.

Plan B should ideally be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, but can be taken as long as five days afterwards. However, the sooner it is taken the better, as it becomes less effective the longer you wait, according to Planned Parenthood.

Yet another reason why having a supply of the medication on hand in advance can be helpful.

How Many Times Can You Take Plan B?

Though it is not necessarily advisable to use Plan B as a regular form of birth control, it can be used safely on more than one occasion. The manufacturer of Plan B One Step, for example, advises that the medication can be used multiple times and will not impact future fertility.

It can even be used multiple times per month or per menstrual cycle, said Nicole Cieri-Hutcherson, PharmD, with the University of Buffalo's School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

"There is no limit to the number of times you may use it," Cieri-Hutcherson told Health.

However, if you find that you need to use it multiple times per cycle, it may be a good idea to talk to your physician or medical provider about more effective forms of birth control, rather than relying on morning after pills over the long term.

"Emergency contraception should be used as a last resort," Dr. Sridhar said. "The next thing to think about is 'How can I prevent being in this situation and use more effective and consistent contraception?'"

"I suggest taking a dive deep into all of the available contraceptive methods on the market," she added. "Looking into them with a provider and having a discussion to understand their risks and benefits and how these things fit into your lifestyle."

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