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4 Tips for Medication Safety


For many people, medications play an important role in managing health—they reduce symptoms of chronic diseases, aid you in healing from infections and can even be lifesaving. Not only are medications incredibly valuable for keeping people healthy, new discoveries and advances often mean improved treatments or options with less side effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 8 in every 10 Americans take at least one regular medication, and more than 1 in 4 take five or more prescriptions.

Still, medications come with risks. From allergic reactions to improperly combining medications, it’s important to ask your doctor about medication safety. Here are a few simple ways you can stay safer.

1. Store medicines correctly

Properly storing medications ensures that they continue to remain safe and effective. It’s important to read the instructions for storage: some need to be refrigerated, while others can’t withstand extreme temperatures.

Most medicines should be kept in a cool, dry place, such as a nightstand drawer, closet shelf or a kitchen cabinet. If you do keep medicines in the kitchen, be sure to store them away from your stove and sink, where the fluctuations in temperature and humidity could impact their effectiveness.

If you have young children, you’ll need to take care to store medicines where children can’t access them. Even though many prescription containers have caps that are difficult for children to remove, children are still at high risk of accidental poisoning if they get into medications they shouldn’t have.

2. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions

Whenever you are prescribed a medicine, it’s important that you take it as often and as long as your healthcare provider directs. You should never stop a regular medication without talking to your provider and always take antibiotics for as long as advised. Even if you feel like your symptoms have improved, not taking your prescription can cause illnesses to worsen and increase your risk of hospitalization.

If you have any medication side effects, talk with your healthcare provider. You may need to adjust your dosage or switch to a different medicine. If it’s difficult for you to remember when and how to take your medicine, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for recommendations. Prefilled pill boxes, automated reminders or other technologies may help you adhere to your provider’s directions.

Never take prescriptions that your healthcare provider hasn’t prescribed. A doctor assesses many factors when prescribing medicines, including allergies, drug interactions and your own medical history. Taking medications that belong to someone else can be very dangerous and may even make your own symptoms worse. Misusing medications, such as taking opioids not prescribed for you, also increases your risk for addiction.

3. Dispose of medications properly

Just like you dispose of expired food, it’s important to get rid of expired medications. Expired medicines can be extremely harmful if taken by mistake. And improper disposal of medications can lead to drugs, particularly opioids, ending up with someone who wasn’t prescribed them.

If a drug take-back program is available in your area, this is the ideal way to dispose of unused or expired medicines. If you don’t have access to one of these programs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has outlined a few key steps:

  • Mix the pills with a substance such as coffee grounds, kitty litter or dirt. Do not crush the pills.
  • Seal the mixture in a plastic bag.
  • Cross out all personal information on the pill bottle using a permanent marker.
  • Dispose of the plastic bag and the pill bottle in your household trash.

Some medicines are specifically recommended to flush down the toilet, as they can be extremely harmful or even fatal to children or pets if accidentally ingested. You can check the FDA website to find out more about what to do with specific medications.

4. Ask questions

If there’s ever anything you don’t understand, ask your healthcare provider! Your healthcare provider can explain why they’re prescribing a medicine, how to take the medicine and how long to take it. If you think of a question when you pick up your medicine, you may also ask your pharmacist.

Your healthcare team is a crucial resource for helping you stay well, and that includes understanding medication safety. Looking for a new healthcare provider? Find an Adventist Health provider near you.