You should choose your pharmacy with the same care you take in choosing a physician. Although it's not uncommon to see more than one doctor, it's best to use only one pharmacy so all medication records are at one location. On your first visit to the pharmacy, take a few moments to answer questions regarding your medical history. A complete and accurate medication record will alert the pharmacist to any drug allergies, any conditions that may have an effect on the drugs you take, and any adverse effects you experienced from drugs in the past. This will also enable the pharmacist to detect any harmful drug interactions, and to avoid duplicate orders.
You should be able to answer the following questions before taking any new medication. Although each medication comes with instructions, your pharmacist should be available to answer any or all of the following questions in more depth and in language that is easier to understand.
- What is the name of the medication and what is it supposed to do?
You should know the names of all the medications—both prescription and nonprescription—you take so you can inform each doctor you see. It is also important to know what each medication looks like.
- When and how do I take it?
You need to know how often to take your medication, if the medication is best taken on an empty stomach or with food, and if you should take it at the same time each day.
- For how long should I take it?
Your prescription order indicates the length of time you should take the medication and whether refills are available. Skipping doses or stopping medication to save money or because you "feel better," can result in health problems requiring more expensive treatment in the future.
- Does this medication contain anything that can cause an allergic reaction?
If you always use the same pharmacy, the pharmacist will be able to detect any potential problems.
- Should I avoid alcohol, any other medications, food and/or activities?
Certain foods or alcohol may also interact with your medications. Some drugs can cause drowsiness and may affect activities such as driving.
- Should I expect any side effects?
All medications can cause side effects, but they are not necessarily serious. Your pharmacist will inform you of the most common side effects. If you experience any unexplained effects, contact your doctor or pharmacist.
- What if I forget to take my medications?
Be sure you know the answer to this question when you receive the prescription. The decision to take a missed dose depends on the drug. Don't panic and don't take a double dose unless you are specifically directed to do so by your doctor.
- Is there a generic version of the medication?
Not all medications have generic counterparts. If a generic version is available, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has judged it to be equivalent to the brand name product and can save you up to half the cost.
- How should I store my medications?
Proper storage ensures a medication's effectiveness. The bathroom medicine cabinet is not an ideal storage place. Heat and humidity can adversely affect your medication. Most medications require a cool and dry storage location, and some need refrigeration.
- Does this medication replace anything else I was taking?
Make sure you understand if this medication is replacing another medication.
Most liquid medications come with a measuring device. Make sure you have one before you leave the pharmacy. If you don't have one, ask the pharmacist how to measure out the dose you need. Do not use tableware, such as a tablespoon, because each one is made differently.
- Keep a list of all your medications, both prescription and nonprescription.
- Keep all medications in their original containers. Make sure you know what each is for, and the brand and generic names.
- Store medications properly. Some may need to be refrigerated, but most should be stored in a cool, dry lockable cabinet away from direct sunlight.
- Never take someone else's medication.
- Take medications exactly as prescribed. Don't chew, crush, or break capsules or tablets unless instructed.
- DO NOT flush old medications down the toilet unless specific instructions tell you to do so. Instead take them out of the original container, mix them with other substances such as cat litter, place them in a sealable bag and throw them into the garbage. Another option is to take them to a community drug take-back program. If you are in doubt about how to dispose of the medication, talk to your pharmacist.
- Turn the lights on to take your medications.
- Keep medications for people separate from medications for pets or household chemicals.
- Read the label every time you take a dose to make sure you have the right drug.
- Don't keep tubes of ointments or creams next to your tube of toothpaste.
- If you forget your medications when traveling, don't panic. Most pharmacies will call your home pharmacy and get you enough pills to tide you over. If you're traveling overseas, or will be away for a long time, have your doctor write an extra set of prescriptions for you before you go.
How to dispose of unused medicines. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm101653.htm. Updated May 19, 2014. Accessed October 14, 2014.
Know your prescriptions. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/patient-involvement/healthy-men/prescriptions/index.html. Updated December 2012. Accessed October 14, 2014.
Medications: using them safely. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/home/medication_safety.html. Updated November 2011. Accessed October 14, 2014.
Stop, learn, go: Tips for talking with your pharmacist to learn how to use medicines safely. US Food and Drug Administration website. Updated August 30, 2013. Accessed October 14, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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