Essential medication safety tips (UPDATED)
For those living with a chronic disease, safe medication storage and use is more than following directions on an occasional antibiotic or treatment for an acute illness. Both the types of medications and the number of different medications present additional challenges and put people at greater risk for adverse drug events (ADE). ADE’s lead to about 700,000 emergency department visits per year in the U.S. Therefore medication safety tips are part of our strategy to be as healthy as possible.
Strategies to promote medication safety
We know about child-resistant lids on medicine bottles and reading the labels, but what else can we do to boost medication safety? Here are many more medication safety tips.
BEST PRACTICE medication safety tips
1. Use a single pharmacy as much as possible. As an important safety partner, your regular pharmacist can help prevent dangerous errors such as overlapping prescription ingredients or medication interaction problems.
2. Use a medication safe to lock up controlled substances or medicines that might be a danger to others or a target for theft. The safe in the picture is the one I’ve used for several years.
3. Make sure your doctor has an updated list of everything you take, including over the counter (OTC), supplements, and herbal medications. Share this information with your pharmacist when you ask her advice.
4. Carry medications in carefully labeled containers, preferably in original containers. A pharmacist can provide a small duplicate bottle if you need to carry only part of a prescription.
5. Keep a log of doses taken or count out doses for each day of the week or time of day and place in labeled pill containers.
6. Look over package inserts and store in a file for future reference. If you misplace one, they can usually be found in PDF form by searching online.
7. Teach young children to respect medication as something that can be helpful, but dangerous if not used properly, like cars and stovetops.
8. Dispose of old medications carefully, asking a pharmacist if you are unsure of the safest way to discard. Do not flush medications in the toilet.
MORE EDUCATED medication safety tips
9. Pay attention to whether medicines should be taken before or after eating or whether there are foods that should be avoided with your medication because they could increase or decrease absorption. Your pharmacist should be able to help you with this.
10. Pay attention to the maximum daily dosage and the optimal dosing schedule, especially in light of other medications.
11. Know what the active ingredients are in a medicine so you can be aware of proper dosing or which medications contain the same ingredient or same type of ingredient.
12. Know what a medication is for and what to expect. Whenever a new medicine is prescribed, ask: How will this help me? How will I know if it’s working?
13. Know what side effects to expect and which ones are routine versus serious signs. With new medications, ask you doctor and pharmacist: What things do I need to watch out for?
DOUBLE CHECK just to be safe
14. Check medications when picking them up at the pharmacy or when they arrive in the mail. Make sure they are the dose and brand you expect.
15. Never assume dosing with a different bottle. Medications can vary in strength by brand or when labeled for different age or usage, so always check labeled dosage even with a familiar medicine.
16. Call your doctor or pharmacist with any side effects that seem different or more severe than you expected. Sometimes the dose can be adjusted, but it also guards against possible error in dosage, allergy, or a drug interaction.
MORE COMMON SITUATIONS where medication safety tips are needed
17. If you develop an acute illness, virus, or infection, ask your doctor whether to suspend your routine disease treatments. It’s a good idea to ask ahead of time because you might need to know on a Saturday night.
18. Avoid sharing. It is not safe to share prescriptions with others who have not been prescribed that medication.
19. Do not skip regular blood tests related to your medications. This is a crucial part of the medication regimen, and changes can be detected early with regular testing.
20. Know whether your medication can be stopped suddenly or whether the dose must be reduced gradually.
Do you have medication safety tips to share?
Helpful drug safety links for more medication safety tips
- Medication safety programs, statistics, and literature from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Safeguard My Meds’ prescription medicine storage and disposal guide
- American Medical Association My Medications app
- ConsumerSafetyMed.org has lots of articles on medication safety
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- FDA Limits Acetaminophen in Prescription Pain Medicine
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