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7 Dangerous Drug Mistakes

Experts explain the dangers of mixing drugs, not checking labels, and other common drug mistakes.

5. Using Multiple Pharmacies

"If you go to multiple pharmacies, they can't screen for drug interactions," Grissinger says, because they won't have a complete list of all the medications you are on, as a single pharmacy is likely to keep in its computer. If you use your HMO's ground pharmacy and also use its mail-order service, each may not have a list of the medications filled at the other, he says.

If you insist on using multiple pharmacies due to convenience or cost savings, "show them a list of every medicine you take," Grissinger says.

If you go to another health care professional -- for example, a dermatologist in addition to your primary care doctor -- they should ask you which other medications you are on before prescribing you another. But if they don't, be prepared to tell them. Either way, take a list of your medications and the doses with you, says David W. Bates, MD, chief of the division of general medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Bates served on the Institute of Medicine committee on identifying and preventing medication errors.

6. Not Taking Medications as Directed

"Compliance is a major problem, especially in the elderly," Jenkins says. "As many as one-third of older people don't take medicines as directed." It may be cost related, he says, or simple forgetfulness.

What to do? You can use the boxes that help mind your pills by having a day of the week for each, or simply put your medicines in a place where you will remember to take them. Grissinger's mother, for instance, keeps medication she must take daily on the kitchen windowsill, in full view.

When medicine is prescribed, Jenkins says, ask your doctor if there is a way to take the medicine less often during the day, such as switching to a higher dose or a different medicine that doesn't require as many doses.

While some forget to take medicines, others overdo, says Bates. "Too much of a drug gets people into trouble," he says. And that includes over-the-counter preparations. "People will not get enough relief and will take more thinking it will be helpful." Often, it spells trouble, he says.

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