The most important step to medication safety is to educate yourself about the specific drugs you and your family are taking and the conditions they are intended to treat. Medications are intended to make you better, but they can cause harm if they are used or stored improperly. Here are basic guidelines for keeping you and your family safe while using medications safely and effectively.
At the Doctor’s Office and Pharmacy
1. Keep a list of all medications.
Include all the medications (prescription, over-the-counter, herbal and supplements) that you or those you care for take, even if you buy them all from the same pharmacy. The list should include: the name, color and imprint on each tablet or capsule; the date of the prescription; the dose or strength; what it is for; how much you take and how often; how long you are supposed to take it; any foods or other things to avoid; likely side effects; side effects you experienced; name and phone number of the prescriber and the pharmacy. Also list any medication or food allergies. Update the list frequently and make it available to all of your health care providers. Ask your pharmacist or health care provider to review your medications periodically.
2. Ask questions.
3. Enlist your pharmacist’s help.
Go over dosing instructions with your pharmacist. Make sure you can read and understand the instructions. Ask your pharmacist what the concentration of the prescription was supposed to be and double-check that the concentration is correct. Ask the pharmacist to open the bottle to make sure the medication looks right. You should also look. If you’ve taken the medication before, does it look the same? If not, make sure your pharmacist dispensed the right drug. Sometimes the same drug may look different if it came from a different manufacturer. Also ask your pharmacist what the medication will do for you and be sure the answer makes sense. If you are filling a prescription to treat an infection, for example, but the pharmacist says the drug is for asthma, you’ll know a mistake has been made.
4. Ask about potential side effects or adverse reactions.
Your pharmacist or doctor can tell you if there are major or common side effects and what you should do in case you experience any side effects or reactions. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, be sure and ask whether the drugs are safe for you and your baby.
5. Ask about interactions.
Your health care professional or pharmacist can tell you what drugs may interact with each other or with certain foods or beverages. Taking certain combinations of medications or medications and foods/beverages can either cause dangerous side effects or affect the potency of one or more of the drugs. Find out more about drug interactions How to Avoid Drug Interactions.
6. Ask your pharmacist how you should store the medication.
1. Use caution when ordering prescriptions online.
While some websites offer great prices on prescription drugs, not all drug-dispensing sites are legitimate. You can check the legitimacy of a U.S. drug-dispensing website on the VIPPS page (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) at the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Web site at www.nabp.net. Make sure the site has an address and telephone number and allows you direct access to a registered pharmacist. When you receive the medication, ask the site’s pharmacist all the same questions you would ask your local drugstore pharmacist.
2. Check the credentials.
3. Check with your doctor before purchasing drugs from a foreign country.
If you plan to purchase drugs from a foreign country, talk to your health care professional about the risks involved. Foreign outlets may distribute drugs that are expired, subpotent, contaminated or counterfeit, or they may have been packaged or stored under inappropriate conditions. They may also contain a wrong or contraindicated product, an incorrect dose or inadequate directions. The labeling may not be in English so important information may not be available.