By Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH
Clinical Instructor, Hospital Medicine Section, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Emory Healthcare
When it comes to taking medications for illnesses or chronic health conditions, communicating with your doctor is key for safe and appropriate medication use, and better health. Whether it is taking medication once or twice a year for a sinus infection or a common cold, or taking daily medication for high blood pressure or heart disease, talking with your doctor about the benefits and risks of these drugs is very important.
Taking medications accurately can help prevent or delay more costly medical problems. It can also improve patient outcomes and quality of life.
When your doctor prescribes medication, whether prescription or over-the-counter, ask questions about taking the medication, including: How long must the medication be taken? Which other medications and foods should be avoided when taking a prescribed medication? What are possible side effects? Are tests needed to monitor the effects of the drug? How should the medication be stored? Can a generic drug be substituted? Finally, when will I feel better?
Remember that vitamins and supplements, prescribed or not, also are medications and sometimes can have dangerous interactions with prescription drugs. Supplements may render some medications ineffective or cause dangerously increased levels of other medications for which you may not be aware. For your safety, always inform your physician and pharmacist of all medications – including vitamins, supplements and energy drinks – that you are taking.
Always take all medications as prescribed, even if you are feeling better before you have taken the full amount. It is best to take your medications at the same time every day so you don’t forget. Do not share medications with other family members or friends.
It is also important to check the expiration date on all of your medications. If you have expired medications in your medicine cabinet, throw them away. However, expired or unused medicines need to be disposed of properly to avoid harm.
Almost all medicines can be thrown away in the household trash after mixing them with some unpalatable substance and sealing them in a container. You can add water to solid medications so they dissolve. Combine salt, flour, or turmeric to liquid medications to make them unpalatable. Wrap blister packs in multiple layers of duct tape. Keep the medication in its original childproof package, seal and conceal package, and discard in the garbage can, not in a recycling bin.
Also, check with your pharmacy about returning unused or expired medication, or find out if there is a medication disposal program in your area through the city or county government.
When you’re given your next prescription or buy over-the-counter medication at the drug store, remember to ask questions, fully share information with health care providers, take medications as directed and ensure safe medication practices.
National Council on Patient Information and Education
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Drug Safety
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