Safety is the best medicine when taking prescription drugs

December 12, 2011

Understanding drug dosage

Did you know that most Americans fail to ask questions about their medicines? Or that half of all Americans don't use their medicines as prescribed? It's true. Medicines have a lot of benefits. But they can also be harmful if not used properly.

When taken correctly, prescription medicines can go a long way to help us. Those drugs, available only with written instructions from a medical professional, can relieve pain or manage disease. Doctors often prescribe them to fight certain infections. They can even improve our quality of life.

Some people suffer from serious illnesses. Prescription medicines can help them live a fuller and happier life.

If your family is like most, you have a cabinet that is full of medicines. You may have over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription drugs. Or you may have multi-vitamins or herbal remedies. There are probably medicines you don't even remember picking up at the drugstore.

It is hard to know everything about all of the medicines your family members take. But it is important to know how to protect their health and safety.

To keep you and your family safe, you need to learn about the benefits and risks of medicines.

Here's a helpful and important tip. Whenever you have a question about medicine, always ask your doctor, dentist, nurse, or pharmacist.

Get the most from your medicines

You take medicine to feel better. But you should understand why your medicine will make you better. You should also understand how.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to understand why they gave you a certain medicine. You need to know what side effects may happen.

Also, tell your doctor if you are taking any other medicines. Some medicines don't mix well with others.

Know what medicines your family members are taking, too. You should read the ingredients. You need to know when, how, and how long to use medicines. You also need to know what each medicine is supposed to do. Ask your doctor or pharmacist when to expect results. And ask when to contact them if you experience a problem.

Read and re-read the label. Follow the instructions that come with your medicine. Always double check that you have the right medicine for the right person. Learn if other medicines, foods, or beverages may cause problems if used with your medicine. Pay attention to the medicine's effects. Ask your children or partner how certain medicines are making them feel.

Tips for taking medicines

You can get medicines in a range of places. Sometimes you buy them, other times they are given to you. So you need to be informed and prepared.

Arizona CERT is a program of the Critical Path Institute. It works with The University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. They work to reduce problems caused when two or more medicines are combined.

Below are tips given by Arizona CERT to help you avoid medication mistakes. They are listed by the different locations where you can be given medicines.

At the doctor's office:

  • Before you meet with your doctor, make a complete list of all medicines you take. This should include prescription, non-prescription, over-the-counter medicines, and nutritional or herbal supplements. When you change medicines, be sure to update your list.
  • Take your medicine list with you to every doctor's appointment.
  • Ask your doctor to fully explain your medicine to you. You should know the drug name. You should know how you should take your medicine. Ask what the medicine is supposed to do. Finally, ask when you should call your doctor while taking the medicine.
  • At least once a year, bring all of your medicines with you to your doctor's appointment – this way you can talk about all aspects of your medications and your doctor can make certain your records are up to date.
  • As you get older, some medicines may affect your body differently. Ask your doctor from time to time if you should change your medicine amount. This is very important if you have been taking a medicine for a long time. You may have to start taking more, or maybe less.

At the pharmacy:

Pharmacists play a major role in stopping medicine mistakes. Pharmacists are medical professionals who can provide prescription medicines. You should think about using only one pharmacy or drugstore. This will help your pharmacist keep a complete record of all your prescription medicines. Your drugstore can also look for possible drug problems.

Sometimes, you may need to get medicine in an emergency. You may also have to get your medicine sent to you in the mail. This may happen at a drugstore other than your regular drugstore. If that happens, bring your medicine to your usual pharmacist. That way, your regular pharmacist can record your new medicine into your file.

When you pick up your medicine, be sure your pharmacist gives you printed information. Before you take your medicine, make sure you have clear answers to the following questions:

  • What are the brand and generic names of the medicine?
  • What should the medicine your doctor gave you look like?
  • Why are you taking it?
  • How much should you take and how often?
  • Is there a best time to take your medicine?
  • How long will you need to take it?
  • Are there side effects, and what should you do if they happen?
  • What should you do if you miss a dose?
  • Does this medicine mix with your other medicines or with any foods?
  • Does this medicine replace anything else you have been taking?
  • Where and how should you store it?
  • How soon should you start to feel better?
  • When should you report back to your doctor?
  • Should you avoid any liquids, foods, or activities while using this medicine?
  • Could you become addicted to this medicine? If so, how can you avoid this?
  • Where can you get more information about this medicine?
  • Will it affect you if you're going to have a baby or nursing?
  • Sometimes the directions instruct you to take the medicine every three or four hours. Ask if that means throughout the night as well as during the day.
  • Is this medicine available in a child-proof container?
  • What is this medicine's expiration date?

When you buy over-the-counter medicines, read the labels carefully. Some medicines may contain ingredients you do not want or should not take. Ask your pharmacist for help if you have difficulty selecting the right product.

In the hospital:

  • Take your medicines and list of medicines with you when you go to the hospital. The doctors and nurses there will need to know what medicines you are taking.
  • Ask your doctor the name of each medicine he or she gives you. You should also ask why you are taking it. If someone at the hospital tells you something different from what another person there told you, you will know to ask questions. By asking questions, you may stop mistakes.
  • Look at every medicine before you take it. If it does not look like what you usually take, ask why.
  • Do not let anyone give you medicine without them checking your identification bracelet each time. This helps prevent you from getting someone else's medicine.
  • Before any test or procedure, ask if it will require any dyes or medicines. This will help you avoid allergic reactions.

When you are ready to go home, talk to a healthcare professional about each medicine. It may be a good idea to have a family member there with you. Update your medicine list if any medicines change or if new medicines are added.

At home:

  • Keep medicines in their original, labeled containers. This can help you recognize each pill and to follow the proper directions.
  • After opening a container of medicine, take out the cotton plug. The cotton may attract moisture into the container, which could ruin your medicine.
  • Do not store medications in the bathroom medicine cabinet or in direct sunlight. Humidity, heat, and light can affect how your medicine works and how safe it is.
  • Do not store medicines in the refrigerator unless your instructions indicate it is all right. But make sure you keep liquid medicines from freezing.
  • Store medicines in a place where children cannot see or reach them. For example, keep them in a locked box or cabinet. Teach your children that medicines can be dangerous if not used correctly.
  • Keep medicines for people separate from pet medicines or household chemicals.
  • Do not keep tubes of ointments or creams next to a tube of toothpaste. They may feel similar when you grab quickly.
  • Generally, you should not chew, crush, or break capsules or tablets. But sometimes your doctor or pharmacist will say it is okay.
  • With liquid medicines, use only the measuring device that came with it. Many household teaspoons and tablespoons are not accurate.
  • Keep phone numbers for your doctors and pharmacist in a convenient place. You should also keep the numbers of your local EMS and poison control centers. Know the locations of pharmacies that are open 24 hours a day. This could come in handy in case of an emergency.
  • Do not take your medicines in the dark. You may think you know exactly what the bottle on your nightstand contains. But you should turn on a light to be sure.
  • Never take another person's medicine or share yours with anyone.
Tips to prepare for the doctor's appointment to make it a success

Make the most out of an M.D. visit

Make your next doctor’s appointment a success.

Read Have A Healthier Doctor’s Appointment
Basic causes of back pain and information on how to diagnose and treat symptoms for relief

Bent out of shape by back pain?

Find out what you need to know about common causes, diagnosis and treatment.

Read about back pain basics
Health benefits of triathlons and cross training exercises like swimming, cycling and running

Swim, bike, and run your way to wellness

Get all the benefits of cross training and test your physical and mental limits with things you did for fun as a kid.

Read all about triathlons (link opens in new window)