Using Medications Safely

Using Medications Safely

Sep 23, 2013

Using Medications Safely

by Barb Green, Parish Nurse



p23 drug shelf CLR



Medication errors result in at least 1.5 million preventable injuries every year costing billions of dollars in medical costs. Although older people are most likely to suffer a medication error, it can happen to any age. The most effective way to avoid medication errors is to take personal responsibility for preventing them.

•Know the name of every medication you take, the dose, what it looks like, why you take it, and how you should take it. Have a list of medications and supplements you are currently taking with you at all times.

•Keep your drugs where you can remember to take them. Filling a medication box on a weekly basis is a helpful way to know if you took your medication as scheduled.

•When a medicine is being prescribed for the first time, inform your doctor or pharmacist about any other medicines you are taking. This helps prevent potentially serious drug interactions. Let them know about allergies, medical conditions and any dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbals, etc.) you are taking. Be sure you understand all the instructions.

•Take medicines for the entire period they are prescribed. Never take more than prescribed. Don’t take any medicine that has been prescribed for someone else. Never consume alcoholic beverages with medicines until checking with your doctor or pharmacist.

•Keep all medicines in their original containers. Store as instructed on the label. Check for expiration dates to be sure the medication is still effective. Safely dispose of all outdated medicines where children and pets cannot reach them. (In our area, using a drug box provided at a police department or clinic is a safe way to do this.) If medicines don’t work, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before discontinuing them.

•If you have children, read labels to determine the amount to give them—never guess. Follow the age-limit recommendations. Don’t give two medicines at the same time unless your doctor has prescribed them that way.

•Your pharmacist is an important part of your healthcare team. He can answer many questions about your medicine including ones about over-the-counter medications. When you have a prescription filled, make sure that the medication is indeed for you, and that you can read and understand the name of the medicine, the directions on the container and the warning stickers on the bottle. Check that you can open the container. If you have trouble swallowing pills, there may be liquid medicine available. Do not chew, break or crush tablets without first finding out if the drug will still work.

•Try to use the same pharmacy for all your drugs. Their computer programs can catch potentially dangerous drug interactions that can occur when you get your prescriptions from different physicians. Try to fill your prescriptions when the pharmacy is the least busy or use the automated refill system. Avoid the first week of the month as this tends to be a busy time.

•When you are hospitalized, show your list of drugs to the admitting doctor. They do not know you like your primary care provider does, so it is up to you or an advocate to speak up about your ongoing care. When you are discharged it is important that you understand if any medicines have been discontinued or added to your regimen and what instructions go with the safe use of these. Remember to change that medication list you keep with you at all times to reflect these changes.


Drug errors are costly but they do not have to happen. You or a caregiver are the first line of defense in seeing that you understand your drugs and take them safely.


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