Today’s medications are more effective than ever before; however, any medication, if used improperly, is potentially dangerous. Although our government works to ensure medications we take are safe and our doctors and pharmacists help us to take what is appropriate, how we take our medication is ultimately our responsibility. Consider the following guidelines when using medication:
- Know the name of each medication you are taking, the proper dose, what it is treating, and any possible side effects.
- Be sure you can read the label on the medication bottle. Ask the pharmacist to use large type if you cannot read the medication label.
- If you do not fully understand the directions on how to use your medication, ask your pharmacist or doctor immediately. If you are hard of hearing, ask that the directions be written down for you.
Take Medication Only as Directed
- Remember, your medication may not work properly if instructions are not followed exactly.
- Be sure to take any medication only as it is prescribed. Do not change the dose or stop taking a medication without consulting your physician.
Continue to Take a Medication Until the Doctor Tells You to Stop
- Even if symptoms have disappeared and you are feeling better, continue taking any medication until your doctor tells you to stop or until you finish the prescription. If you stop taking medication too soon the problem may return or worsen.
- If you feel a medication is not having the effect the doctor intended or seems to be doing more harm than good, call your doctor immediately.
Be Honest With Health Care Professionals
In order for doctors or other health care professionals to provide help, it is important to give them complete and accurate information.
When you go to visit the doctor about your health, be sure to mention:
- Any symptoms you have. Describe all your symptoms and answer all questions as accurately as you can. This will help the doctor determine the best treatment.
- All medications you are taking. Without knowing what other medications you are taking, a doctor may prescribe a medication that is the same or similar to one you already take or that may cause a drug interaction. Remember, herbs, vitamins, over-the-counter medications, and medicinal agents obtained from health food stores are also medications. Tell your doctor how much and how often you take such items.
- Anticipated problems in taking your medication. If you think you will not be able to take a medication for whatever reason, say so and be specific.
- Directions not followed. If you did not take a previous medication or missed a few doses, tell your doctor.
If the doctor is not informed, he or she may believe a treatment is not working and provide another, less effective medication. By being open and honest, you can avoid any misunderstandings or unnecessary changes in treatment.
- Side effects or unusual reactions. Share information about any allergies, side effects, or unusual reactions you have had to previous medications. The better the information you share, the more it can help your doctor to prescribe a medication that will work best for you.
Take Medication in Its Original Form
- Never crush pills or open capsules to make them easier to swallow, unless this is approved by a health care professional. Changing the form of any medication may alter how well it works in your body or may result in stomach irritation. In addition, ingesting time-releases capsules that are crushed may result in over medication or worse, a drug overdose.
Keep a Current Medication and Health Record
- This record should include the names of all prescription and over-the-counter medications that are taken. The dosage and length of time you have taken these medications should also be included. Be sure to list any herbal or nutritional supplements as well.
- Share your medication record with any doctor or pharmacist you see. This is particularly important if you see two or more doctors or if you use more than one pharmacy. This record can help your health care professionals to prescribe and provide medications that will not negatively interact. By sharing this information, you can avoid unnecessary problems.
Carry a Medication/Health Card in Your Wallet
- A medication/health card should contain important facts about your health, for example, any health problems, the medications you take, and any medications that produce an allergic reaction.
- The card can be helpful if you are involved in an accident, you faint or blackout, or you are away from home and need medication. This card could save your life by informing medical professionals of your unique health needs.
- Consider wearing an Emergency Medical Identification bracelet if you know you have an allergic reaction to a particular medication or other substances (e.g., bee venom) or suffer from a specific disease, such as diabetes.
Use One Pharmacy
- It is recommended you get all of your medications at the same pharmacy. This will help the pharmacist to keep complete and accurate records of all your medications and be alert to possible problems.
- A pharmacist who knows your medication history can also advise you better about over-the-counter medications and herbal or vitamin supplements. Using one pharmacy is particularly important if you are seeing more than one doctor and taking multiple medications.
- If you move and change pharmacies, request a copy of your medication profile to take to your new pharmacist or physician.
- Do not share medications. Sharing prescription medications is dangerous. What is safe and effective for one person may produce side effects, no relief, or a severe reaction for another person. As a result, never take medications prescribed for someone else or lend medications prescribed for you. Even if your symptoms appear the same, you may be suffering from an entirely different problem.
- Do not take medications without checking the label. Always be sure you are taking the right medication by reading the label carefully before you take any. If it is dark in the room, turn on a light. If you need glasses to read, be sure to wear them to read the medication label.
- Do not use old or expired medications. Medications that are expired are not as effective and can cause a person to become ill if ingested. Be sure to check the expiration date on all prescription or over-the-counter medications BEFORE you take them. Do the same with any herbal or vitamin supplements.
- Do not dispose of medications improperly. Medication prescribed for a previous condition or that has expired or changed in color or odor should be disposed of. Discard all oral medications by flushing them down the toilet and throwing the empty containers in the garbage. Ask your pharmacist about the safest way to dispose of needles and syringes. Do not throw these items in the garbage where they can injure someone.
- Do not ask for unprescribed refills. Do not ask the pharmacist for a prescription refill if the doctor has not authorized it. Avoid any extended automatic refill arrangements. Instead, consult with your doctor about your medications every 3 to 6 months.
- Do not store medications anywhere there is heat, light, or moisture (e.g., a window sill, above the oven, or in a bathroom). Unless otherwise instructed, store medication in a cool, dry, and dark place, preferably at temperatures between 50-68 degrees F. Light, heat, and/or humidity are the “enemies” of most medication and can cause them to lose strength, disintegrate, or become dangerous due to a chemical change.