Medicine Safety:

Understanding how your medicines work, and being alert to the following things can save your life, and help avoid medicinal mishaps. Medicine safety is no joke, read below for tips to keep you safe and informed.

When you’re still in the doctor’s office:

Questions to ask your doctor and other tips…

  • Ask your doctor for the medicine that offers the best balance of price and results or outcomes. This tells your doctor in a clear way that treatment goals need to be set, evaluated, communicated and achieved.
  • If you’re older (over 60) or have kidney disease be certain to ask if the new medications being prescribed will be removed by the kidneys. If this will happen your doctor will most likely want to adjust the dosage.
  • Be sure to discuss with your doctor how often you’ll need to take the medication. Be honest, if you don’t think you’ll remember three times a day perhaps there’s another medicine for the same problem you’ll only need to take once a day. You should *always* take your medicine as directed on the bottle.
  • Ask for the name of the disease the medicine treats to be put on the label. This way if you’re taking several medicines you won’t risk getting them confused. It will also give the pharmacist an extra check when it comes to filling prescriptions and making sure they’re giving you the correct drugs.
  • You may wish to ask about side effects, if a certain drug will make you dizzy or tired and you need to take it in the mornings before work, you way want to try a different drug that will allow you to function properly. Some drugs have side effects that are worse than the thing they’ve been prescribed to cure, so knowing this may make you decide to use a different drug.
  • It’s also important to find out how soon you can expect to see results and what you should do if the medication doesn’t seem to be working.

While talking with your doctor, show him that you’re really interested in your health, and making sure you understand what he or she is telling you. take notes, repeat directions and other information, and ask questions- even if you think they may seem foolish or trivial. Feel free to also inquire as to whether they have any printed information on your medicines on hand. It shows your doctor you care and keeps you safe and informed. To make sure you don’t forget something you may want to bring a list of questions with you before you visit the doctors office.

When you go to the pharmacy:

When your pharmacist hands you your prescription bag it’s often stapled shut- open it up before you walk away. Inside it is your prescription and a brief patient info sheet. Your pharmacist can give you lots of information, and answer your questions about your medications. So if you have any questions about the medication, interactions, or other directions your doctor might have failed to mention, take this opportunity to ask them.

Read the label when you look at your prescription. It seems simple, but many people don’t do it. Reading the label will give you very valuable information- such as taking the medicine with food, and not taking it along with other medications. Ask if you should avoid certain foods, beverages, other medicines, or activities while you are taking the drug. Question anything you don’t understand or that doesn’t seem right. Be especially alert to unexpected changes, such as receiving a prescription refill that seems to have a different strength or appearance from your original prescription. If you have questions don’t hesitate- Ask.

Use the same pharmacy for all your medicines. Again this seems simple, but again it’s something overlooked by many people. Using different pharmacies means that when having prescriptions filled for new drugs a single pharmacy might not have a list off all the medications you’re currently taking. This makes it easy for mistakes to happen. You could be prescribed a medicine by one pharmacy that will interact with one you’re already taking that comes from a different pharmacy. Medicine reactions can be very dangerous, so use one pharmacy for all your medicine needs to keep yourself safe. It also gives you an opportunity to develop an good relationship with your pharmacist, they’ll be familiar with your medicines which will further decrease the risk of error.

Another way to avoid interactions is by having your medications mapped. This shows all the drugs you’re taking, prescription, non-prescription and herbal, lists side effects, interaction notices, and maps out a logical daily routine for taking your medicine. All of this is on a single sheet of paper as opposed to the multiple pieces of paper that you get for individual prescriptions that you need to organize yourself. This is a fast and simple way to keep you safe and give your doctor and pharmacist and extra final check.

If a medicine you’re on is life sustaining, or you’re deathly allergic to a certain type of medicine, you may want to invest in a medicine alert bracelet, tag, or card. These can be worn or kept in a wallet and if anything happens to you they’ll let the medical response teams know what they need to do to help you.

When you get home:

Organize your medicines, if you’ve had them mapped then you’ve got a handy daily schedule telling you when you need to take your medicine. makes several copies of this in case one gets lost. If you keep a profile of the drugs you take be sure to keep it updated. Make a list of everything you’re taking- prescription, non-prescription, herbal, medicinal foods, etc- and share it with your doctor and pharmacist this will help prevent drug interactions.

Learn the names, doses, and strength, of the drugs you take:

Take your medications exactly as your doctor and the label on the bottle prescribe. Doing this ensures that the medicine will work the way it’s supposed to, and keeps you safe from bad interactions and other complications. Don’t take to little, as it lessens the effect of the medicine, and don’t take too much as it could be toxic. Occasionally missing a pill is also big deal- some medicines really do need to be taken every day. talk to your doctor to find out about how your medicines will react if missed. Also make sure that you finish a prescription you’ve been given unless instructed otherwise. If you’re unsure if you were supposed to finish it or not call your doctor.

If you realize you have more questions once you get home, don’t hesitate to call your doctor or pharmacist. It is also important to call them before adding any other drugs (even non-prescription and herbal) to your daily drug regiment. If you’re doctor or pharmacist won’t make time to answer your questions you may want to consider finding some new health care providers who will make time for your questions- which ARE important.


If you think you may have had a reaction, no matter how minor –a headache which wasn’t in the listed side effects, a sudden appearance of a rash, etc- call your doctor immediately to set up an appointment. If the reaction seems moderate to severe call 911 or have a friend drive you to the nearest ER. Even if it turns out to be a false alarm, always be aware of things like that. Also, when you go to the doctor don’t just tell them about the new medicine you’ve been taking, give them a list of everything so that they can check for drug interactions. If you’ve had a reaction your medications need to be changed, so don’t hesitate. Minor reactions will get steadily worse and lead to bigger problems.

If you are older and on medications, be careful. Some medications can make the elderly and those with a weak immune system miserable. The side effects of many drugs will leave these people bedridden, sick, and generally unhappy. the elderly especially are at risk because as you age your body adapts and reacts differently to medications. So if 6 years ago you took a medicine that worked for you very well, and you start taking it again, now as a senior citizen, you may see and feel considerably different. In situations like this you may not think to ask your doctor many questions about the drug because you’ve taken it before. But it’s important to understand that while the drug hasn’t changed your body has, and the two will interact differently and the medicine needs to be reevaluated to make sure it is the correct medication for your current state and situation.

Traveling Safely with Medications

Many medications can cause “photo sensitivity,” or increased sensitivity to sunlight. Even if you don’t usually sunburn, taking medications that cause this reaction could greatly increase your chances of getting a bad burn. Your pharmacist can advise you about whether your medication can cause photo sensitivity and recommend the right SPF (skin protection factor) for your skin type.

  • If you are flying, keep your medications in your carry-on luggage so that you have access to them during your flight and will not lose them in the event that your luggage gets lost. Plus, keeping your medications with you helps prevent exposure to extreme temperatures in the baggage compartment, which can alter the drug’s effectiveness. Keep in mind that airport security requires that your medications be transported in their original, labeled containers.
  • If your medication requires you to use a syringe - insulin, for instance - you may need to carry your prescription with you to ensure that you can pass through airport security. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes be prepared to provide airport security personnel with copies of prescriptions for diabetes medications and supplies as well as complete contact information for the doctor who prescribes the insulin.
  • Make sure that you carry your doctor’s and your pharmacy’s phone numbers with you when you are away from home. In case you lose your medications, you may need a new prescription. You should also keep on hand a list of all your prescriptions.
  • If you are traveling through several time zones, consult with your doctor or pharmacist to work out a specific plan for adjusting the timing and dosage of your medications. This will prevent you from taking too much or too little.
  • If you are visiting a foreign country, beware of buying “over-the-counter” medications. Many medicines that are available by prescription in the United States are available “over the counter” in other countries. Some of these medications could have different ingredients, and may not undergo comparable quality control. Buying these medications could put you at risk for allergic reactions, drug interactions, or other problems.
  • If you are visiting a hot, humid climate, be sure to keep your medications in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Never store medications in the glove compartment of your car. Also, because of the heat and humidity that build up in a bathroom, it is the worst place to store medication whether you are at home or on the road.
  • Take along more medication than the number of days you’ve planned to be away. This will allow you to be prepared for unexpected delays.