DOCTOR IS IN: Mindfulness with medications

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.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

AP Photo/Steve Helber

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), flushing unused or expired medications down the toilet or sink drain is not recommended for the vast majority of medicines. Many medications are detrimental to the environment – fish, other aquatic wildlife, and humans – when the water is “treated” and reclaimed. Only a few, select medications are safe for flushing.

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

Information provided by Emory on this site is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for any questions you may have regarding your health and medical condition. If you rely on any information available through this website, you do so at your own risk. You understand that you are solely responsible for any damage or loss you may incur that results from your use of or reliance on any material or information provided by Emory through this website.

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    3 comments Add your comment

    Charles Williams

    November 9th, 2009
    6:24 pm

    I never would have thought of returning old, expired meds to the drug store. I have always trashed them… good advice.

    Michelle Nino

    November 10th, 2009
    10:47 am

    Excellent advice. Medication disposal is rarely covered in the doctor’s office/visit and who doesn’t think flushing them down the toilet is a good idea. I’m glad I read this column.

    Kathy Crowe

    November 12th, 2009
    12:24 am

    It never occurred to me or anyone in my household about the effects of flushing expired medications on the environment. Very informative…. great read!