Prescription medication safe use tips
- Keep an updated list of all your medications. The list should include all the medicines you take, including prescriptions, non-prescription medicines, vitamins and supplements. Make sure your healthcare team has an updated list of the medicines you take in your medical file and set up in your pharmacy profile to help screen for drug interactions. In case of an accident or emergency, make sure a loved one has an up-to-date copy of your medicine list too.
- Set up a “brown bag session” with your pharmacist and doctor once a year to review your medications. Bring in all the medicines you take and review them with your pharmacist and doctor(s). This “brown bag review” can help identify duplicate or outdated medicines, and medicines that are no longer needed or may cause harmful drug interactions. Learn more about questions to jump-start your conversations with your healthcare provider.
- Read labels and other educational aids carefully. The medication label has limited space, so read the package insert or information sheet that comes with your medicine to get all the facts. Studies show that between 50 percent or more of medication users do not follow medication directions correctly. The best way to ensure you use your medicines correctly is to read and follow the label.
- When in doubt, ask your physician and pharmacist. Staying on track with your medications can be hard, especially when you have to take more than one a day. (See jump-starter questions.)
- Don’t share or borrow medicines. Prescription medicines are meant for you and you alone. Sharing or borrowing medications is not only dangerous, but is illegal. Prescription medicine “borrowers” could face criminal prosecution for possessing a prescription drug without a valid prescription. Prescription medicine “sharers” could face Federal drug violation charges for illegal distribution of prescription medicines, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
- Store medicines in a secure location, out of reach and sight of children, curious family members, houseguests and pets. Store medications in a cool, dark and dry place. Check package instructions, as some medicines may require refrigeration. Discard unused or expired medicines appropriately. See NCPIE’s storage and disposal page for more detailed information.
- Get organized. Ask your pharmacist to set up a medication-taking calendar or to recommend a medicine dispenser to help you get organized, especially if you are on several daily medicines. See more medicine adherence tips to keep track of your medications and remember to take them.
- Do not stop taking your medications without direction from your healthcare provider. If you stop your medication regimen prematurely, it can put you at risk for your symptoms or condition to recur or even worsen. Always talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before making changes to a drug regimen.
- Know your medical and medication history. Make sure your healthcare provider knows about any special conditions you have, including allergies (to drugs, dyes or foods) or a history of medication problems. Also let your healthcare provider know if you are or may be pregnant or are nursing, are a smoker, if you have a history of kidney or liver disease, and inform them of any other recent health conditions or chronic diseases. It’s important that those recommending and filling your prescriptions know as much about your health as possible.
Taking your prescription medications as a part of your daily routine will get you on the right path toward treatment success.
Initiate a conversation with each new prescription
When your healthcare provider writes you a new prescription to manage a symptom or treat a health condition, use the opportunity ask questions and seek information about the medicine, what its expected benefits are, and what potential risks, side effects or drug interactions you should be on the lookout for.
Additional resources on safe medicine use
- Talk Before You Take
- Why ask questions? Questions can improve your care and your health outcomes
- Must ask questions about the medicines you take
- Your Medicines: Be Safe. Be Smart. Safe medicine tips brochure.
- Prevent medicine abuse
- Visit BeMedWise’s library of free, downloadable health education tools and tip sheets
- Ask questions, it’s good for your health