All medications sold in the U.S. can be divided into two categories:
- Prescription drugs that require a prescription to be sold
- Nonprescription or over-the-counter drugs that do not require a prescription from a doctor
Prescription drugs are generally more potent than those sold over-the-counter (OTC) and may have more serious side effects if inappropriately used. Therefore, these medications are only sold under a doctor's direction. These directions are written on a prescription by your doctor, then double-checked, packaged, and sold to you by a pharmacist. Your pharmacist will also counsel you on how to use your medication and the drug's potential side effects.
You should use only one pharmacy to fill your prescriptions. That way, you will have a single, complete source for all of your medications. The pharmacist will be more likely to pick up potential interactions among them and contact your doctor if needed. This applies to OTC as well as prescription drugs.
When you fill your prescription at the pharmacy, make sure to do the following:
- Your pharmacist must have the same information as your doctor regarding your medications and past reactions you have had (again, no reaction is too trivial to bring up).
- If there are children in the home, make sure to ask for child-resistant lids.
- If no children are in the household, your pharmacist may be able to provide you with easier opening lids. If you have children visiting, put the medication out of their reach.
- If the medication is a liquid, get a measuring device with the prescription -- usually a measuring teaspoon or a medical syringe. Don't trust the volume of your home teaspoon or your ability to guess.
- Find out how the medication should be stored. Most people leave their medications in their bathroom medicine cabinet. This is arguably the worst place in the house for pills, because the humidity in a bathroom can make them break down more easily. Other drugs need to be refrigerated. Find out about yours before you leave the drug store.
- Before you leave the pharmacy, also check to make sure the medication you are given matches your doctor's prescription. Look at the directions for taking the medication. Do these match what the doctor told you? Ask the pharmacist any questions you have.
- If you accidentally use a medication or a substance not meant for you, call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or call 911. Keep these numbers handy in case of an emergency.