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Medications can keep us healthy but can be extremely dangerous if taken by the wrong person or in the wrong amount.

Know your medications

It is important to know what medications you take, why they are prescribed, and how to take them. It is a good idea to put together a list and keep it with you in case of an emergency. Include any over-the-counter medications or products you use. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns.

Getting Prescriptions Filled

Try to use the same pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions, so that they can help you keep track of everything you're taking.

Prescription Purpose

Tracking the purpose of each prescription allows you or your caregiver to watch and ensure that each drug is doing what it is supposed to. If you notice a medication is not working to treat symptoms, you can then go back to the doctor and ask for a different dosage or medication. Don’t change your medication dose or schedule without talking with your doctor first.

Taking Medications

Make sure you understand how to take your medications:

  • Read the label - morning or nighttime or multiple times per day, with or without food.
  • Don’t crush or break pills unless your doctor instructs you to do so.
  • Don’t store your medications in locations that are humid, too hot, or too cold.

Don’t use medication prescribed for someone else.

Don’t use medication that has passed its expiration date.

If you take multiple medications, it may be helpful to use a pill sorting box.

Side Effects

It is very important to note the side effects of each medication. This will help ensure you know what to expect, identify normal side effects, and quickly recognize potential harmful side effects that require an immediate change in medication.

Drug Interactions

You may have multiple medications, and a doctor may not always catch medicines that interact with each other. Make sure you understand interactions with other medications and possible interactions with certain foods.

Follow Up

Periodically bring a list of medications to your doctor’s appointment. Ask whether they are still needed, as well as if there are newer medications with fewer side effects or cheaper alternatives to current prescriptions. Make sure all of your doctors know about medications prescribed by other doctors as well as any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements you take.

Safeguard your medications

Never share medications, even among your family. Taking medication without a doctor’s order can be dangerous. They are prescribed for a specific person for a specific purpose. This behavior also often leads to prescription-drug abuse.

Keep track of your medicine. Count how many pills you have at any given time to check for missing medicine.

Keep medicine up and away, out of reach and sight of children. Remember products you might not think about as medicine. Over-the-counter and health products such as vitamins, diaper rash creams, and eye drops can be harmful if kids get into them.

Consider places where kids get into medicine. Children often find medicine kept in purses or on counters and nightstands. Place bags and briefcases on high shelves or hang them on hooks, out of children’s reach and sight.

Give medicine safely to children. Use only the dosing device that comes with liquid medicine, not a kitchen spoon. When other caregivers are giving your child medicine, write clear instructions about what medicine to give, how much to give and when to give it. Using a medicine schedule can help with communication between caregivers.

Medications are colorful and attractive to children and can be mistaken for candy. Parents should not encourage children to take their medication by comparing it to candy, as this may lead to improper use.

Keep medications in their original labeled containers so if there is an emergency, you can tell medical personnel exactly what was taken.

Consider Over-the-counter Products in Your Home

Read the label. It will help you decide if it is the right product for your symptoms, understand the dosing instructions, and any warning that may apply to you.

  • Children, pregnant women, or people with certain medical conditions may not be able to take some over-the-counter medications and products. When in doubt, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking anything.

Be sure you understand side effects. OTC drugs can be addictive and life-threatening when misused or abused.

Some people may choose to abuse OTC drugs as opposed to illegal drugs, due to the assumption that if they are sold at the pharmacy as medication then they must be safe. Take the same precautions with over-the-counter products that you would with prescription drugs.

Dispose of Old Medications Properly

When medications have passed their expiration dates, disposing of them will protect you and others in your home from using a medication that may have become ineffective or even toxic. Disposing of medications properly will help protect the environment, as well as pets, children, and anyone who might find medicines in your trash.

The safest way to dispose of medicines is to take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Check if your city or county has a medicine take-back program. These are programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book or go to your municipality's website) or check with your pharmacy to see if a take-back program is available in your community.

The FDA recommends flushing only if the drug label or accompanying information has instructions to do so. These are usually medicines that are very dangerous or fatal if they are taken by the wrong person, or if they are found by a child or pet. Other medications that should be flushed can be found on the FDA’s website.

When throwing away medications in the trash if no take-back program is available, follow these medication disposal guidelines:

  • Remove drugs from their original containers and remove or scratch out identifying information from container labels.
  • Do NOT crush pills or capsules.
  • Mix medications with kitty litter, saw dust, coffee grounds, or another substance that will absorb them and make them undesirable.

Respond to Accidental Poisonings

If you suspect someone has taken a potentially poisonous substance:

  • If the person has collapsed or is not breathing, dial 911 immediately.
  • If awake and alert, call the poison hotline at 800.222.1222 and follow the operator’s instructions.

If possible, have available the person’s age and weight, the container or bottle of the poison, the time of the poison exposure and the address where the poisoning occurred.

Look for signs such as vomiting, drowsiness and any residue odor on the mouth and teeth. But know that some products cause no immediate symptoms, so if you suspect that someone has taken a potentially hazardous substance, call the poison hotline immediately.

Remain calm so you can effectively communicate with emergency personnel. Do not give anything to the person by mouth until advised by the poison control center. If chemicals or household products have been swallowed, call the poison control center immediately or follow the first aid instructions on the label.