By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer
Drugs are powerful substances that can do anything from changing your brain chemistry to killing bacteria. So you must empower yourself with knowledge to stay safe.
What can happen? One drug may reduce or increase the effects of another. A drug might neutralize another. Alcohol taken with some medications can even be deadly.
Food can also be a concern because it can speed or slow how some medications work. Even taking a fiber supplement too close to when you take the drug can affect how the body breaks the medication down. Drugs may also affect how your body absorbs and uses nutrients. They can suppress your appetite or make you hungrier.
Another problem is when the wrong medication is dispensed or the dosage directions on the prescription were unclear or misread. Sometimes these mistakes, although rare, can be fatal or lead to hospital admissions. For instance, Lamictal, a drug to treat seizures and bipolar illness, can be mistaken for Lamisil, which is meant for nail infections.
Medication safety tips
1. Ask your doctor questions:
What is the medication used for?
How should I take it and for how long? Antibiotics, for example, are medications that you should take until the prescription runs out or your doctor says to stop them. But people often stop taking them before then. This can make disease-causing bacteria become resistant to medication.
What happens if I forget a dose?
2. Research the medication online. Try our Drug Guide.
3. Take all medicines exactly as prescribed. Ask your doctor anything you’re unsure of before you leave his or her office. Call your doctor if you are unclear once you get the medicine. If you are told to take a medication three times a day, make sure you understand if you should take it exactly eight hours apart.
4. Read the labels carefully. This can help remind you of drug warnings or potential side effects. Sometimes new warnings may be listed in the packet insert.
5. Make sure all of your doctors know all your prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, herbs and supplements. One drug may reduce or increase the effects of another. Some drugs might neutralize the others. Herbs and supplements may interact as well.
6. Label your medications. Mark your meds in a way that you can understand so you won’t mix them up. For example, put a yellow sticky note on the medication you take for your blood pressure and a pink one on the one for your depression.
7. Use a pillbox that separates pills by days and time of day. You can find them at the pharmacy. Ask for help from your pharmacist, friend or family members if you have any problems. Make sure you store your medications safely. Keep all medicines out of the sight and reach of children.
8. Set the alarm on your cell phone or watch to go off when you need to take your medicine. This way, you won’t forget to do so.
9. Check the medication before you leave the pharmacy. Look at the label and dosage, and check the pills. Make sure this is correct before you go home.
10. Check the prescription form. When your doctor hands you the prescription go over it with the doctor or nurse to make sure you know how and when to take it and what it is for. If your prescriptions are sent right to the pharmacy, ask your doctor these same questions while you are in the office.
11. Pay attention to over-the-counter drugs you take. Read the Drug Facts label for possible interactions. For instance, some cold medications can cause an increase in blood pressure or interact with some of your prescriptions.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As you age: you and your medicines. Accessed: 03/19/2010
- Minnesota Pharmacists Association. Medication safety tips. Accessed: 03/19/2010