With drug shortages and a bloated national health bill, what if expired medications were still effective? What if instead of throwing out the drugs, patients and pharmacists could keep them on the shelves for several more years? Lee Cantrell, director of the California Poison Control System, San Diego Division, and a professor of clinical pharmacy at University of California, San Francisco and his colleagues went about testing the content of old boxes of medicine, which had expired 28 to 40 years earlier. Out of the 14 compounds they analyzed, 12 still fulfilled government requirements for potency, according to the team's report, released Monday. The boxed drugs included the narcotic painkillers hydrocodone and codeine as well as the sedative pentobarbital and butalbital.