Mind Body

Prescription drug do’s and don’ts

How to take and store medication safely

From healing a headache to zapping an infection, medications can seem almost magical. They have the power to make you feel better and even cure an illness. But, if not used correctly, medications can also cause harm. Whether you have prescriptions or over-the-counter medications, it’s important to take them as directed and keep them safely stored.

Each year, many people in the United States are harmed by adverse drug events, which are caused by the use of medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these incidents cause approximately 1.3 million Emergency Department visits and 350,000 hospitalizations each year. New medicines are emerging each day, and physicians are prescribing them more widely.

At the same time, our population is aging, requiring more medications, so it is more important than ever to practice good medication safety. Here are some tips.

Keep it kid-safe

When it comes to kids and medicine, think up and away. As any parent knows, children can be curious and get into things — even when you think they’re tucked away. Safe Kids Worldwide advises that it’s best to keep medicines and vitamins above counter height. Don’t keep medicines lying around in purses, sports bags or nightstands; instead, store them out of reach and sight of children.

Buy medications with child-resistant packaging whenever possible. Remember, child-resistant does not mean child-proof. Kids can still get into medication containers with a little time and effort.

Make sure the children understand that medicine should only be given by an adult they know, and that they should not take it on their own. Tell them that you or another trusted grown-up will help make sure they’re taking the medicine correctly. Teach children how to read drug labels and facts, so they’re aware of the importance of taking medicine properly.

Play it safe and always keep the Poison Control Center’s number in your phone and posted at home (1-800-222-1222). The center is available 24/7 to provide free advice any time, including during emergencies.

Utilize medication take-backs

Clean out your medicine cabinet regularly to avoid taking medication that has expired or that you no longer need. Here’s how to safely get rid of medications:

  • Look into medication take-backs. Many areas have a medication take-back program to help ensure that certain medications don’t end up in the wrong hands. Talk with your local pharmacist or law enforcement official to find out what your community offers. You can even participate in a mail-in drug take-back program from home.

Sharing is not caring

People share prescriptions for many reasons that are understandable, such as the high cost of certain medications. However, while it may be tempting, taking another person’s medication can put your health, and even life, at risk. For example, a dosage that is right for one person may be too high for another. Or, a substance can be dangerous to your health if you have certain health conditions, allergies or are taking other medications.

Always talk with your doctor before taking any medicine and get your own prescriptions. If cost is an issue, ask your doctor about generic alternatives or medication assistance programs.

Keep tabs on what you take

The CDC reports that 3 in 10 people take five or more medications per day. That’s a lot to keep track of, especially if a person is chronically ill. Managing multiple medications means there’s more chance of misuse. Here are some tips for keeping tabs on your medications from the National Institute on Aging:

  • Make a list. Write down all medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements. Include the name of each medicine, the amount you take and the time(s) you take it. If it’s a prescription, also note the doctor who prescribed it and reason it was prescribed.
  • Show the list to all of your healthcare providers.
  • Keep a copy on your person at all times and another copy at home.
  • Use a medication-tracking app on your phone, or even an old-fashioned pillbox, to help ensure you take your medications when you’re supposed to.
  • If you have a question about your medicine, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.