Medication Safety Tips

Coloured capsules and tablets
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Most people with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or other chronic illnesses take prescription medications, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, vitamins, and/or herbal supplements. Knowing how to properly take and store your medications not only helps them work most effectively, but may save your life. Each year thousands of people end up in the hospital because they did not take their medication properly.

Follow these 10 tips to avoid medication errors:

  1. Whenever your doctor gives you a new prescription or makes changes to an old one, be sure you ask these questions:
    • What is the name of the medication?
    • Why it is being prescribed for me?
    • How soon should I expect to see/feel a difference?
    • What are the possible side effects and what should I do if they happen?
  2. Chose a reliable pharmacy and get all of your prescriptions filled there. That way all of your medications will be in one computer data base which will alert your pharmacist when there may be a possible drug interaction.
  3. Your pharmacist should give you a Consumer Medical Information Sheet (CMI) with your prescription. Before you leave the pharmacy, read the CMI carefully. If it does not answer these questions, ask the pharmacist:
    • When and how should I take it (i.e., how many times a day, what time of day, with or without food)?
    • How long should I take it?
    • Is there anything I should avoid while taking this medication (i.e., alcohol, specific foods, other medications – including OTCs, activities)?
    • Is there anything in this medication that could cause an allergic reaction?
    • Should I expect any side effects?
    • What should I do if I forget to take a dose?
    • How should I store this medication?
    • Is it safe to become pregnant or breast-feed while taking this medication? (if applicable)
  1. Follow the dosing instructions carefully when you take your medications.
  2. Do not chew, crush or break any capsules or tablets unless instructed by your doctor. Some medications are absorbed too quickly when chewed or crushed which could have an effect similar to taking an overdose.
  3. Store your medications properly. The bathroom and the kitchen are probably the two worst places to store medicines because humidity, heat and light can all affect their potency and safety. Try a high shelf in your closet, where children cannot easily see or reach them.
  1. If you have trouble remembering when to take your medicine or whether you have already taken a particular dose, there are a number of pill organizers that can help you keep track. Some even have alarms you can set to remind you when it’s time for your next dose.
  2. Never take medication prescribed for someone else and never offer your prescription medication to another person.
  3. Flush old medicines down the toilet. Never take a medication after its expiration date. Some drugs become toxic when they get old, which can be extremely dangerous.
  4. Make a list of every medication you take, including OTCs, vitamins and herbs – even if you only take them occasionally. Make sure to note the dosage and how often you take each one. Keep the list in your wallet or purse. In case of emergency, you need to be able to tell the medical team what you have taken and when. Show your list to each doctor you see and review it with your primary care physician regularly.


American Pharmacists Association, 9/11/06

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