Dos and Don'ts of Drug Safety

Do you take a long list of drugs to manage serious health problems? Or do you simply reach for an over-the-counter medication from time to time? Either way, there's a lot you can do to make sure you get the most benefit from the medication -- and stay safe in the process. These medication safety tips are a good place to start.

Know Your Medications

What you don't know CAN hurt you. The more you know about any medication you use, the better you can be sure you're using it properly. For each medication you take, whether it's a prescription medication or an over-the-counter drug, you can fill in this chart to be sure you understand what the medication does and how to use it. If you can't find the information on the medication bottle or in the patient information that came with the medication or have trouble understanding the information, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Medication name (both brand and generic)
Size, color, and imprint on pill
Dosage
Common side effects
What to do for side effects
When to call your doctor
Other special instructions

Drug Dos and Don'ts

These 10 drug DOs and DON'Ts can help you make sure that your medication works safely to improve your health.

5 Drug DOs...

  • DO take each medication exactly as it has been prescribed.
  • DO make sure that all your doctors know about all your medications.
  • DO let your doctors know about any other over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements, or herbs that you use.
  • DO try to use the same pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions, so that they can help you keep track of everything you're taking.
  • DO keep medications out of the reach of children and pets.

5 Drug DON'Ts...

  • DON'T change your medication dose or schedule without talking with your doctor.
  • DON'T use medication prescribed for someone else.
  • DON'T crush or break pills unless your doctor instructs you to do so.
  • DON'T use medication that has passed its expiration date.
  • DON'T store your medications in locations that are humid, too hot or too cold. For example, the bathroom cabinet may not be the best place for your medication.

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Dispose of Old Medications Properly

When medications have passed their expiration dates, disposing of them will protect you and others in your home from consuming 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.

Before flushing old medicines down the toilet or tossing them in a trash can, 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. While experts used to recommend flushing old medication down the toilet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends against this because sewage plants may not be able to adequately remove drug ingredients from the water.

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. This includes the following medications:

Other medications that should be flushed can be found on the FDA’s website. Most other drugs can be disposed of with your household garbage. When throwing away medications in the trash, 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.
  • Put drug mixture into a sealable plastic bag or bottle with a screw-on lid and place in trash.

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WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 20, 2015

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Academy of Family Physicians: "How to Get the Most from Your Medicine."

Institute for Safe Medication Practices: "General Advice on Safe Medication Use."

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: "Tips to Help You Remember to Take Your High Blood Pressure Medicine."

Institute for Safe Medication Practices: “Throw Away Your Old Medicines Safely.”

Office of National Drug Control Policy: “Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs.”

FDA: “How to Dispose of Unused Medicines.”

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