pharmacist selecting medications
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Check for Errors

Almost 2% of all prescriptions are dispensed incorrectly. You may get the wrong drug in the wrong dose in the wrong form. Read the label at the pharmacy counter to make sure it’s the medication your doctor ordered. For a refill, open the container to see if the pills match the ones you’ve been taking.

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customer and pharmacist
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Push for Best Prices

Gag rules in some states don’t let pharmacists volunteer ways you might save money on your prescriptions. For example, almost 1 out of 4 prescription drugs cost less than your copayment. In that case, it’d be cheaper to buy the medication without using your insurance. Also, ask your pharmacist if it’s safe to lower your costs by switching to a generic or similar drug.

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man reading prescription label
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Follow Directions

Half of the drugs for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other long-term conditions aren’t taken as directed by doctors. Keep a list of all your prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and make it a habit to take them at the same time each day if possible. If you still forget, use a pillbox with the days of the week, and put it on the kitchen counter or somewhere you can’t miss. Or you can download a pill reminder app.

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pills scattered on table
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Don’t Overdo Pain Relievers

One in 5 people take more than the recommended dose of common non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen. And almost 25% of people mix two or more NSAIDs at a time. That can damage your liver or kidneys, or cause bleeding inside your body. Stick to doses on the label. For kids, base the dosage on their weight, not their age.

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pill splitter
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You Cut Up Your Pills

Don’t do this unless your doctor or pharmacist told you to. Some pills should be taken whole because they’re coated to release slowly, to protect your stomach, or to bind two medications together. If it’s OK to split the pills, cut them one at a time as you go so they won’t break down from heat or humidity. Use a pill cutter, or ask you pharmacist about scored tablets.

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woman by window blinds
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Mind Your Moods

More than 200 drugs, including birth control pills, blood pressure medication, and heartburn relievers, have possible side effects that include depression or thoughts of suicide. If you notice such symptoms or feel down for more than a couple of weeks, ask your doctor if one of your drugs might be the culprit. Sometimes you might be able to lower your dose or try a different class of medication.

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doctor talking with patient
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You Skip Medication Checkups

If you take any prescription or over-the-counter drugs or supplements regularly, go over your lineup every year with your doctor or pharmacist. You may no longer need to take some of them, or they might not mix well with your other medications. This is especially true if you’re older and are on several different medicines.

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medication and foods diptych
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Food Facts

Some medicines work better or faster in an empty stomach. Others are best taken with meals. Also, some foods and drugs can make for bad or dangerous combinations. These include dairy products with some antibiotics, certain cholesterol-lowering medications and grapefruit juice, and green leafy veggies and other vitamin K-rich foods with the blood thinner warfarin. Ask your pharmacist for guidance.

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bartender pouring drinks
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You Mix Medicine and Alcohol

You know not to drink and drive. But you may not know that taking certain drugs with alcohol can mean trouble. Sleeping pills, cold remedies, and other medicines that get you drowsy might make you even more so when mixed with drinks. Alcohol also can interact with some ingredients in medications and damage your liver. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist about what’s safe.

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properly stored medication
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Storage Smarts

The heat and moisture from a steamy shower or bath can damage your pills. This means they may be weaker and not work as well. Most medicine is best kept in a cool, dry spot in your kitchen or in a high, secure cabinet. Insulin and certain other drugs should be refrigerated.

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checking calendar
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You Stop Cold Turkey

You need to take medications for as long and exactly as your doctor prescribed, even if you feel better before you’re supposed to stop taking them. But more than half of people don’t. If you find it’s hard to stick with it, talk to your doctor before you quit. If the drug is too expensive or causes too many side effects, there might be an alternative that’s cheaper or less bothersome.

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prescription drug label close up
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You Take Expired Medication

Popping a couple of headache pills past their expiration is probably OK. Studies show most drugs retain up to 80% of their original potency even a year or two after that date. Still, it’s important to replace old medication. New versions may have different instructions or warnings, childproof packaging, or more accurate tools to measure doses.

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cough syrup measurement
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Measuring Mistakes

The spoons from your kitchen drawer can lead to dosage errors. A study found that people who used a medium-size spoon to pour cough syrup and other liquid medication were likely to take too little. But those who picked a big spoon were more likely to overdose. So always use the cup, syringe, or other measuring tools that come with the drug.

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woman shopping online
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Stick With Your Pharmacy

It’s best to fill all your prescriptions at the same drugstore or mail-order vendor so they have a full picture of your medications. That can help prevent drug interactions and other problems. If you’re traveling, get your meds from the same chain, which often can look up your records from your original pharmacy.

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throwing away medications
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Toss Leftover Prescriptions

When you no longer need your medication, get rid of it quickly so no one else can take it or misuse it. The FDA says you should flush dangerous drugs like the opioid oxycodone down the toilet when taking them back isn’t an easy option. Dispose of other medication by mixing it in dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds. Seal it in a plastic bag, and leave it out with the trash. Remove your personal information from the empty packaging

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/28/2019 Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 28, 2019

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) MJ_Prototype / Thinkstock

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SOURCES:

Clinical Toxicology: “Non-health care facility medication errors resulting in serious medical outcomes.”

PLOS One: “Preventing dispensing errors by alerting for drug confusions in the pharmacy information system -- A survey of users.”

InDependent Diabetes Trust (UK): “Storing Insulin.”

Annals of Internal Medicine: “Interventions to Improve Adherence to Self-administered Medications for Chronic Diseases in the United States: A Systematic Review,” “Clinical Observation: Spoons Systematically Bias Dosing of Liquid Medicine.”

The American Journal of the Medical Sciences: “Overuse and Misperceptions of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs in the United States.”

FDA: “Best Practices for Tablet Splitting,” “Avoid Food-Drug Interactions,” “Why You Need to Take Your Medications as Prescribed or Instructed,” “Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know.”

Journal of the American Medical Association: “Prevalence of Prescription Medications with Depression as a Potential Adverse Effect Among Adults in the United States.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Why It’s Best to Occasionally Review Your Medicines With Your Doctor.”

National Institute on Aging: “Medicines: Common Questions Answered.”

U.S. Pharmacist: “Food-Drug Interactions: Which Ones Really Matter?”

National Institutes of Health: “Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicine.”

Institute for Safe Medication Practices: “Where Do You Keep Your Medicine?” “What Does a Medication’s Expiration Date Mean.”

British Medical Journal: “Appropriateness of outpatient antibiotic prescribing among privately insured US patients: ICD-10-CM based cross sectional study.”

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 28, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.