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Dos and don'ts of medicine safety

Whether it’s over the counter or prescribed, taken by you or administered to another, medicine care and safety is of paramount concern to all. Here are some practical points to safely manage your medicine treatment.

Do you take a long list of medicines to manage serious health problems? Or do you need an over the counter (OTC) product from time to time? Either way, there's a lot you can do to make sure you get the benefit from your medicines and keep safe in the process.

Know your medicines

What you don't know can hurt you. The more you know about any medicine you use, the more you can be sure you're using it properly. For each medication you take, whether it's prescription or over the counter, always check with your GP or pharmacist that you understand what it does and how to use it. If you can't find enough information on the packaging or in the patient leaflet that came with it, or you have trouble understanding it, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain.

Medication dos and don'ts

These dos and don’ts can help make sure your medicine works safely to improve your health.

Medicine dos...

  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any drugs you are already taking; prescription, over the counter, complementary, alternative or recreational.
  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are pregnant, intend to become pregnant or are breastfeeding.
  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any allergic reactions you have had to previous medicines.
  • Take each medication exactly as it has been prescribed.
  • Check if your medication is likely to make you drowsy or affect your ability to perform difficult or dangerous tasks.
  • Check there are no foods you need to avoid while taking the medication and that it’s safe to drink alcohol.
  • Follow the timings of your medications with respect to meals if advised to by your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Store medicines in a cool, dry place and protect then from light or refrigerate them if advised to do so.
  • Keep all medications out of the sight and reach of children.
  • Finish the treatment by completing the course your doctor has prescribed if this is what has been advised.

Medicine don’ts...

  • Leave your doctor’s surgery or your local pharmacy without understanding clearly how and when to take the medicine.
  • Leave medicines near the reach of children. Store them in a cool, locked cupboard out of sight and reach of children.
  • Take any medications, over the counter or prescribed, if you are pregnant or trying to conceive without consulting your doctor or pharmacist first.
  • Miss any doses; if you have trouble remembering to take your medicine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Stockpile medications at home; once you’ve finished a course take any remaining back to the pharmacist for safe disposal.
  • Change your medication dose or schedule without talking with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Use medication prescribed for someone else.
  • Crush or break pills unless your doctor instructs you to do so.
  • Use medication that has passed its expiration date.
  • Store your medicine in locations that are either too hot or too cold. For example, the bathroom cabinet may not be the best place for your medication, use a cool, locked cupboard out of the sight and reach of children.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on March 21, 2016

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