Are you using your medication safely?

Nearly 3.4 billion prescriptions dispensed each year are taken improperly, and this can lead to adverse side effects, hospitalization, and even death.

The first step to taking medication safely is to discuss its risks and benefits with your doctor or pharmacist. Make sure you understand why you are taking a certain medicine and how it affects your body.

Before using prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications, read all warnings and follow dosing instructions precisely, including using spoons, cups, or syringes that come with the medicine. Some medicines may contain warnings against eating or drinking certain foods as well as smoking. When picking up a prescription from the pharmacy, double check that it’s the medication you were expecting to pick up.

Once you get home, it can be helpful to create a list of each medication that you take along with its strength, dose, and the prescribing doctor. The list can also help you check whether two or more of your medications contain acetaminophen, increasing your risk of overdose or liver damage (go to KnowYourDose.org for more information).

Always remember to never share your medications with anyone else.

And remember to tell your doctor or pharmacist if you missed a dose, overdosed, or experience any side effects.

In Case of Emergency

If you or someone in your care has accidentally overdosed, call 800/222-1222 (American Association of Poison Control Centers).

Secure Storage

Leaving medications in unlocked medicine cabinets or in other easily-accessible places can lead to unexpected problems.

It’s better to store your medicines:

  • In a cool, dry place in their original containers.
    • Avoid bathroom medicine cabinets, which are often moist and warm and can decrease medications’ effectiveness.
  • Out of sight and reach of children and guests.
    • Using a locking medicine cabinet or hidden location can keep medications out of the hands of potential drug abusers and away from children or pets who could get sick.

Dispose of Medications Safely

If you have unwanted, unneeded, or expired medications, be sure to remove them from your home. The Dispose Safely section has great advice for how to properly dispose your medicines.

Ask Your Pharmacist

Pharmacists are trained to understand how medications work in your body and identify medication interactions and problems, so don’t hesitate to ask them any questions you might have about your medication regimen!

Pharmacists can help you:

  • Manage your medications: Your pharmacist can create a medication plan for you, share this with your doctor, and follow up with you on a regular basis to see if you are meeting your health care goals. This is especially helpful for those with chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma.
  • Get vaccinated: Many pharmacies offer flu shots and other vaccines, such as those needed for travel.
  • Save money: Ask your pharmacist when you have questions about your drugs or drug costs. Another drug might be available that may save you money.

Note: Some insurance plans do not cover all of these services. Talk to your pharmacist about availability.

Medications and Seniors

As we age and change, so do our medication needs. The tips below can help you avoid medication errors.

At the doctor’s office or pharmacy: 

  • Ask your pharmacist for the patient information sheet explaining your new medication.
  • Tell your pharmacist about all prescription and non-prescription medications you are taking and include over-the-counter (OTC), herbal, vitamin, and dietary supplements.
    • It’s helpful to carry a medication record in your purse or wallet, so that you can take it with you to doctor appointments and to your pharmacy when you are picking up new medication(s).
  • Look at the label carefully when you pick up a new medication. If there is information that you do not understand, ask your pharmacist. If the text is too small to read, many pharmacies offer large-print labels.
  • Always fulfill your appointments for scheduled laboratory tests or follow-up visits. Monitoring helps doctors and pharmacists know if your medication is working.
  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor to review the medications you are taking at least once a year.

While at Home:

  • Remember to turn on the lights and put on your glasses. It’s easy to mistake one pill bottle for another. Make sure you double check and read the label every time.
  • Labeled pillboxes can help you remember to take multiple medications throughout the day. Be sure to keep any pillboxes out of reach of children.
  • Use a calendar or medication record to help you remember whether you have taken your medications each day and on time.