20 Essential Medication Safety Tips | Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior

20 Essential Medication Safety Tips

20 Essential Medication Safety Tips

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

Recommended reading

Kelly O'Neill

Kelly O'Neill (formerly Kelly Young) has worked about 12 years as an advocate helping patients to be better informed and have a greater voice in their healthcare. She is the author of the best-selling book Rheumatoid Arthritis Unmasked: 10 Dangers of Rheumatoid Disease. Kelly received national acknowledgement with the 2011 WebMD Health Hero award. She is the president of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation. Through her writing and speaking, she builds a more accurate awareness of rheumatoid disease (RD) aka rheumatoid arthritis (RA) geared toward the public and medical community; creates ways to empower patients to advocate for improved diagnosis and treatment; and brings recognition and visibility to the RA patient journey. In addition to RA Warrior, she writes periodically for newsletters, magazines, and websites. There are over 60,000 connections of her highly interactive Facebook page. You can also connect with Kelly on Twitter or YouTube, or LinkedIn. She created the hashtag: #rheum. Kelly is a mother of five, longtime home-schooler, NASA enthusiast, and NFL fan. She has lived over fourteen years with unrelenting RD. See also https:/rawarrior.com/kelly-young-press/

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22 thoughts on “20 Essential Medication Safety Tips

  • December 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Great advice! It recently dawned on me that my drs don’t always know all of the potential interactions and my list of meds was getting out of control. I took advantage of an amazing service at a nearby pharmacy–I booked a medication review with the pharmacist, who sat down with me for an our in a private meeting room and went over everything… It was extremely helpful and I learned a few things none of my drs had mentioned (to watch out for serotonin syndrome due to two medications that could combine and cause a problem), and which of the prescribed pain meds would be safest in combination with my other medications (and which one not to take because it would have added a third contributor to potential serotonin syndrome), and which ones safer for driving and maintaining alertness etc. I don’t know whether such a service is available everywhere, but it’s worth asking your pharmacist, and if so taking advantage of it! They also provide a pre-arranged blister pack in which they divide all of your meds for you into morning, mid-morning, afternoon and evening compartments. Since I spend a good hour or so organizing this every week and often forget the supplements that I don’t include in my pill divider, I plan to take advantage of this service next.

    • December 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

      Wonderful tip Lisa! I remember speaking at a pharmacist meeting a few months ago and they had some wonderful programs for certain types of patients, and I recommended they add rheum patients to that list of those who qualify automatically for the program. People just don’t realize all our complicated medication regimen because they don’t know enough about the systemic nature of the disease. Thanks for your great tip.

  • December 4, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I carry a list of my medications in my purse with dosage that I take. It is on bright colored paper in case I am unable to talk due to an accident or event. Plus the allergies to meds are on there too.

  • December 4, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Hi kelly,

    this was a timely article. It is not just interactions that can cause a problem. and bless those excellent pharmacists.

    The medications and what to take what day and which ones are twice a day , once a day, once aweek , twice a week, etc… has become very challenging.
    I now sit down twice a month and sort doses per day for a two week regimen. This has cleared my head immensely. I also keep a spare day dose in case i’m called out of town for a night.
    If i can collect enough samplers i may pack my grab and go toiletry bag with a 3 day regimen so i can g back to only packing clothed for short trips.

    I really enjoy this web site.


  • December 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    awesome idea, I have two children and even though I have taught them about my medication this is a great idea, especially when they have friends over. Amazon sells several different types and sizes at a reasonable price.

  • December 4, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I found an app for my phone that lists all my medication and also tells me when to take them. It also shows a list for the past month, and I can take pictures of my meds and add it to the list. So if something was to happen to me, the authorities would look for my I.C.E. on my phone and it tells them to check my med app.

  • December 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful and helpful tips. This is indirectly related to the topic, but I finally broke down and purchased medical “jewelry” this year due to many secondary issues have developed from my RD (e.g. Epilepsy, thyroid, Sjogren’s, allergies). MedicAlert was a bit pricey so I found an alternative through http://www.americanmedical-id.com/. They have an interactive health record available for a $20 flat fee. You can take any engravable piece of jewelry (or keychain) and have the website, your ID and password put on it in addition to any other pertinent information. As meds, dosages, etc. change it’s easy to update your records on the website. Hope this helps someone else.

  • December 4, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    🙂 Great tip from Lindy via email:

    “don’t take your medicine in the dark or you might take your morning meds instead of night meds.”

  • December 4, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Our health insurance forced us to use a mail order pharmacy by charging 3x the copay if we use a retail pharmacy. With all my meds, the lack of pharmacist oversight has been a big concern for me. Recently I found reference to drug interaction checking websites in a magazine. I tried one and was pleasantly surprised by the results. http://Www.drugs.com offers this service.

    • December 4, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      yes, their site has some good tools. I like the pill identifier too.
      Hate mail order pharmacy because they have tried to force me to use whatever product they can get cheapest – even if it is not equivalent.

      Anyway, they do have pharmacists in the mail order pharmacy & you can get one on the phone to try to help. I still call my local one for advice even if med was purchased by mail.

  • December 5, 2013 at 12:15 am


    i was wondering what to do if, or maybe it is When i’m forced into mail order for my medications. it is good to know these websites.

    guess it is time to learn how to use the photo app and whatever on my cell phone. keeping medical info on the phone as well as a card in my purse is a good idea.

    i live semi-alone. the first 3 #’s on my cell are my children. i think it is time to send them e-mail with my medicine regimen.


  • December 5, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I also signed up for medicalert after an emergency situation in which I couldn’t speak very well and realized my husband couldn’t possibly know the details of all of my medications. You can go online and update the information, which will be given to medical personnel over the phone in the event of an emergency. Definitely worth the time and effort especially if one has breathing or throat/cricoarytenoid joint issues, which others have mentioned elsewhere on the site could cause problems during intubation. We can’t expect our loved ones to always be around and/or know all of our medical details and which are important in which situations.

  • December 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Wonderful advice, both in the column and in the comments.
    It’s critically important to ensure that drugs don’t get into our ground water, so NOT flushing them is a very important point.
    In New York State, recent legislation has mandated pickup points in all police stations. At ours, in Ulster County, there is a tall tower of a carton, opening on top, in the entry to the station. Drugs (but no sharps) can be dropped in, no questions asked.
    It’s cut the drug disposal problem dramatically.

  • January 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    When I go in for visits they always print out a face sheet with all my DX and Meds. I always keep one in my purse.

  • August 22, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Hello Kelly my wife sent me this site. hoping in some way it could help i have been fighting RA for over 10 years now and let me say its no fun some days you just want to need it for the pain is so bad. Im on alot of meds have had surgery twice in the last 6 mounts on my back. and now they have go in and look at my heart for its not working wright..And i just keep thinking when will the crazy stop..thats all for now thanks Ernest

  • December 10, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    Wonderful list, Kelly. I have one to add. “If you take an OTC medication, say, for a cold, NEVER take one with more than one active ingredient. That way you can test each ingredient alone to make sure there is no allergy or incompatibility with any of your current meds.”

  • February 23, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Great advise, Kelly! The only thing I would reiterate, it to have a list of your meds available to family members. In 2013, my then 16 year-old drove me to the ER with an unbearable headache. I lost the ability to speak because it turns out I was having a stroke. I couldn’t tell the ER doctors anything and they couldn’t allow my minor daughter into the trauma room. My husband arrived 2 hours later (he thought it was a just a bad headache). It was a difficult time for sure.

    • February 23, 2016 at 9:23 pm

      thanks Sharron. That’s a good idea. I’m so glad you recovered from the stroke.

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