Medication Safety: What You Need to Know

Medication Safety

Do you take several drugs, vitamins, and supplements at the same time? Make sure these combinations aren’t causing more harm than good.

Billions of prescriptions are filled every year. In fact, about 4 of every 5 American adults take prescription medicine, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, or dietary supplements weekly. Almost a third of them take 5 or more drugs per week.

With all the medications you may be taking, do you know enough about each one? Are you:

  • Getting the right dosage?
  • Making sure each drug interacts well with your other drugs, supplements, or food?
  • Finding out whether you may be allergic to any ingredients?

Many people cannot answer these questions correctly. They don’t know if they are taking combinations of drugs, supplements, and herbs that don’t interact well. Or they don’t know what to do if they miss a dose.

For instance, people who take the prescription blood thinner coumadin may think it’s okay to take aspirin, vitamin E, or the herb ginko biloba. But these items can also thin the blood. People on coumadin may not realize they are dangerously thinning out their blood by taking other medicines or supplements.

Increase your health literacy

Having “low health literacy” can result in dangerous dosing and incorrect medication usage. Examples of improper medicine usage include:

  • Children getting the wrong dosage of medicine (for instance, some medication dosages should be based on weight and not age)
  • People taking more or less than the prescribed dosage
  • Not taking 1 or more prescribed drugs
  • Taking drugs together that should not be mixed
  • Taking extra doses
  • Taking drugs at wrong times

Health information can be confusing to anyone. Ask your doctor questions so you can take medicine with confidence.

Any medicine can be used incorrectly, including:

  • Insulin
  • Blood thinners
  • Antibiotics
  • Aspirin
  • Pain medications

Know what you’re taking

Knowing what medicines you’re taking is the first step to avoiding problems. Ask your doctor for a list with:

  • Drug names (brand or generic)
  • What each is for
  • Dosage details – how much, how often, how long, and what to do for a missed dose
  • Side effects to look for and what to do if they occur

Ask your doctor if there are certain foods, drinks, medicines, and activities to avoid. Check to see if you should avoid sun exposure while taking your medication.

You can also ask a pharmacist for help. Most can work with your health care team on a medication treatment plan. They can also help to:

  • Give detailed information about medications
  • Eliminate drug duplication
  • Screen for interactions between drugs

Take charge

Learn to avoid dangerous situations and know when to ask for help. Keep good records of everything you take – prescriptions, OTC products, dietary supplements, herbs, and alternative medicines.

  • Write down the name of each drug, the doctor who prescribed it, the name of the pharmacy, when the medication was started, the amount taken, and when taken.
  • Report unexpected changes after starting new drugs.

Ensure proper dosage:

  • For liquid medicines, use the measuring spoon, cup, or syringe provided.
    • If the medicine doesn’t come with a measuring tool, ask for one at the pharmacy.
  • Crushing, chewing, or breaking pills could make medication unsafe or ineffective.
  • Check expiration dates. Drugs may not work or may cause harm after this date.
  • Keep medications in original containers.

Many answers about drugs, interactions, and side effects can also be found in the Healthlinerx Drug Guide on this site. It can help you learn how drugs react with food, beverages, and dietary supplements.

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