Drug Safety

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Drug Safety: Habits2Have®

Every day you make choices that can either contribute to or detract from your long-term health. Choose wisely. Here are simple, practical Habits to Have® to reduce the risks related to the use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

1. Tell your life story.

Tell your doctor about all your health conditions and all your medications, including OTC drugs, herbal products and dietary supplements such as vitamins. These can potentially cause side effects and interactions with prescription drugs. Make an updated list (download a wallet card) and bring it to your appointments, or bring all your pill bottles with you.

2. Ask lots of questions.

Discuss the necessity for a particular drug with your doctor and also ask about non-drug treatment options. Be sure you understand all the potential side effects and the medical risks before choosing a drug treatment.

3. Take care with OTC painkillers.

Different brands of painkillers often include the same ingredients, such as ibuprofen. For example, Advil®, Motrin®, and Midol® Cramps all include ibuprofen. Do not combine different products that contain the same ingredients. And do not take more of a medication than the label recommends. If the medicine does not control your pain, consult your doctor. OTC painkillers can have harmful side effects (such as internal bleeding) if taken excessively.

4. Make friends with your pharmacist.

Next to your doctor, your pharmacist is the most important person in your medical life. Make sure he or she knows your conditions, allergies and everything you’re taking. Medication errors can and do happen, so always double check labels and pills when picking up prescriptions.

5. Keep all drugs safe.

Keep both prescription and OTC drugs out of common areas. One-third of all accidental drug poisonings in children involve a grandparent’s medication. And be sure to track how much you have left, so you know if someone it was not intended for is taking any.

6. Know that bathrooms are bad.

Ironically, bathrooms and kitchens are the worst storage places for drugs, which need to be kept cool and dry. Humidity, heat and light can affect the medication’s potency and safety. A high dresser drawer is a better place to keep them.

7. Talk to your kids.

For kids, there’s a lot of pressure to experiment with drugs. And today the drugs of choice are prescription or OTC because they’re easy to find at home, through friends and on the Internet. Young people view them as “safe” because they’re legal and prescribed by doctors. So talk with your kids about what’s out there and how misuse or abuse of “legal” drugs can be dangerous and potentially fatal.

8. Be careful with children’s medicine.

Never give OTC children’s cough and cold medicines to children under 2 years of age. Also do not give children medicine that is packaged and made for adults. Only your doctor can approve their use. Check fda.gov for updated information.

9. Do right by antibiotics.

Antibiotics are effective against bacteria (strep throat is a bacterial infection), but ineffective against the viruses that commonly cause the cold, flu or coughs. So don’t expect that a prescription antibiotic will always make you feel better. And when you do take an antibiotic, always finish it as prescribed. Overuse or not finishing a prescribed dose helps create antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. Learn more about antibiotic resistance at cdc.org.

10. Beware of the Internet.

Many online pharmacies work in legal grey areas, with no patient consultation and unclear drug quality controls. Consumers should check with their State Board of Pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to see if the online pharmacy possesses a valid pharmacy license and has met state quality standards. Check fda.gov for detailed information.

11. Take it the right way.

Always take medicines – prescription or OTC – as directed and do not take more or less than the doctor ordered or the package recommends. Know what time of day you should take it, how much to take at a time, and how often you should take it. Take exactly the amount prescribed, including refills, and do not stop without consulting your physician. Some long-acting medicines are absorbed too quickly when broken up, so don’t chew, crush or open capsules or split tablets unless instructed. When giving liquid medication, use only the included measuring device as household spoons are not very accurate.

Show your loved ones your dedication to taking your medication properly by sending them an eCard. Browse through the many healthy greetings available and select the Take My Medicine eCard.

12. Get to the root of the problem.

Taking medication is often appropriate, but it doesn’t always solve the health problem. Take pills when they’re really needed, but make lifestyle changes as well – things like exercising, eating healthy and reducing stress.

13. Remember, all drugs are drugs.

Non-prescription medicines are still drugs. In fact, many OTC drugs are the same as prescription drugs, just in smaller concentrations. So keep track of dosages and side effects just like you would with prescription drugs. And you need to safely store them away from small children or curious teenagers. Remember, just like prescription drugs, OTC misuse and abuse can be dangerous and possibly even fatal.

14. Dispose of all unused and outdated drugs.

Check with your local pharmacy or health department for local disposal options. At the very least, remove drugs from their packaging and disperse them throughout your trash, making them unappealing to retrieve.

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