safe drug use

safe drug use

Until the day the perfect drug exists—one that relieves all your symptoms and causes no side effects—we must recognize that every drug has potential benefits as well as potential risks. To maximize the first and minimize the latter, you need to follow some guidelines concerning everything from storing drugs properly to understanding the dosage instructions.

Storing Your Medications

This seems obvious: in the bathroom medicine cabinet, right? Wrong. The heat and humidity generated in the bathroom can change the chemical composition of some drugs. The same goes for the kitchen. Because not all drugs are alike, here are some storage guidelines.

  • Ask your pharmacist how to store your prescription. The instructions should be on the prescription, but ask anyway.
  • Some medications need to be refrigerated. Make sure, however, that you only refrigerate those that should be.
  • If a drug should be refrigerated, don’t keep it at the back of the refrigerator, as some units tend to be much colder in the back and may freeze your prescription.
  • Keep medications away from excess heat and light. For example, don’t leave your prescriptions on a bureau that gets direct sunlight.
  • Keep your medications in their original containers to help prevent deterioration or losing their labels.
  • Many medications, such as narcotics and sedatives, are subject to theft. Make sure you keep all medications in a safe and perhaps unlikely place (e.g., a linen closet, pantry, or utensil drawer), especially if you have repair people or other “stranger traffic” in your home. Drugs left in bathroom medicine cabinets, for example, can easily be lifted by individuals who ask to use your bathroom.

Safeguards Against Tampering

Pharmacists know how different drugs and their packaging should look. If you suspect there is something wrong with either the appearance, smell, or consistency of a drug or the packaging, bring it to the attention of your pharmacist Here’s what you should look for:

  • Tablets should be all the same size, color, thickness, texture, and shape. Check that all the imprints are the same.
  • Capsules should be fully intact and uniform in appearance, color, and odor, and have the same imprint.
  • Tubes, jars, and eye drop containers should be property sealed.
  • Ointments, lotions, and creams should be smooth and consistent, without separation of the ingredients.

Drug Labels

Prescription labels should contain the following information: your first and last name, the name of the prescriber, the drug name (brand and generic if applicable), the pharmacy’s address and telephone number, the prescription number, use directions, and the date it was dispensed. Also make sure there’s an expiration date for the drug on the label. Medications can lose their effectiveness and breakdown into harmful substances over time. If you cannot find the expiration date, ask your pharmacist to get the information for you.

With so much information on a label, it can be difficult to see. If you have difficulty reading the label, ask the pharmacist if you can get the information in larger print. Also, make sure you understand any abbreviations on the label.

Take Your Medications Correctly

Ninety-six percent of patients do not ask questions about their prescriptions. Twenty percent of patients cannot read well enough to follow a medical treatment program effectively at home. Many people don’t realize the consequences of taking their prescriptions incorrectly. These are major reasons why individuals fail to comply with drug treatment instructions.

Timing Is Everything

Taking your medications at the right time can have a significant impact on their effectiveness and safety. Make sure you understand the dosing instructions: does four times a day mean every six hours, or with breakfast, lunch, and dinner and at bedtime? Should you take the medication with food? If you drive to work and your medication makes you drowsy, should you take your morning dose after you arrive at the office?

Timing is especially important if you are taking two or more drugs. Some drugs interact if they are taken together; others are safe. Discuss your drug dosing schedule with your health-care practitioner or pharmacist. Then choose a way to make sure you remember it accurately. You may want to use a scheduling chart or calendar, on which you can mark off each dose as soon as you take it

Side Effects

When you get your prescription, you should be given information about possible side effects. This does not mean, however, that you will experience any of them; it also does not mean that you won’t develop some that aren’t on the list. Everyone reacts to drugs differently. If you experience any unusual reactions to a drug, contact your health-care practitioner.

Old Prescriptions

Old prescriptions that you never used up should not be saved unless you consult your health-care practitioner and he determines that you may be able to use them again in the near future. Remember, however, that drugs lose their potency overtime, so check the expiration dates. Un-needed, unused drugs should be flushed down the toilet, especially if there are small children in the home who may find them.

Prevent Poisonings and Overdoses

Hopefully you will never need to institute any of the emergency procedures. One way to ensure that is to prevent poisonings or overdoses.

  • If there are children in the home, lock all medications out of sight and reach.
  • Make sure there are childproof tops on all medication containers.
  • Never leave medications around where children can reach them. As soon as you take your own dose or give your child a dose, put the medication out of reach.
  • Never refer to medications as candy or “tastes good.”
  • Dispose of unwanted or unneeded drugs by emptying pill and capsule bottles, crushing the contents, and flushing them down the toilet. Pour liquid medications down the sink.
  • Stress upon your children that they should never take any kind of medicine without your help. Draw a big “X” on prescription bottles so they can identify which containers they should always avoid.
  • If a medication looks or smells like it has deteriorated (changes in color or consistency), do not take it. Contact your health-care practitioner or pharmacist immediately.
  • If you need to take medications during the night, turn on the light and use your glasses if you need them for reading.
  • Never take someone else’s medication.
  • If you take two or more medications a day, it can be difficult to remember how and when to take each one. You may actually take too many of any one or more drugs and cause serious reactions. Devise a plan that helps you, such as a chart, calendar, or weekly pill boxes.

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