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Discharge Instructions: Taking Medicine Safely

Medicine can help treat or prevent illness. But if you don’t take it correctly, it may not help. It may even hurt you. Your healthcare provider or pharmacist can help you learn the right way to take your medicine. Here are some tips to help you take medicine safely.

Safety tips

  • Have a routine for taking each medicine. Make it part of something you do each day. Take your medicine after brushing your teeth. Or after eating a meal.

  • If you take a few medicines, find help getting organized. A pill organizer is one idea. It can arrange all your medicines for the day. Or for a week at a time.

  • Bring all your current medicines to the hospital or your healthcare provider’s office. Bring them in their original boxes or bottles. Or bring an up-to-date list of your medicines.

  • Don't stop taking a prescription medicine unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Doing so could make your condition worse.

  • Don't share medicines.

  • Ask your provider about side effects with any new medicines.

  • Let your healthcare provider and pharmacist know of any allergies you have.

  • Don't take a prescription medicine with another remedy without talking with your healthcare provider first. It can be harmful to take prescription medicines with other substances. These include alcohol, illegal drugs, herbs, supplements, or even some over-the-counter medicines. Talk with your provider or pharmacist before using any of these while taking a prescription medicine.

  • Try using the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions. That may not be possible. If not, let each pharmacist know what medicines you are taking.

  • Keep medicines out of the reach of children and pets. Keep medicines in a cool, dry, dark place. Don't put them in the bathroom or in the kitchen. There is too much moisture and heat there.

  • Don't use medicine that has expired. And don't use medicine that doesn’t look or smell right. Call your pharmacist to find out how to safely get rid of medicines. Or where you can take them to get rid of them.

  • Medicine in a single-dose container should be used only one time. If you use the container a second time, it may have germs in it. These can cause illness. These illnesses include hepatitis B and C. They also include brain or spinal cord infections.

  • Know how to safely dispose of your unused or expired medicines. Many towns have medicine take-back programs. You may be able to drop off medicines at certain places or through your local recycling and trash collection. Go to the FDA's website or talk with your healthcare provider about how to safely dispose of them.

Names of medicines

Medicines have brand names and generic names. When a medicine is first made, it's sold only under its brand name. Later it can be made and sold as a generic. Generic medicines cost less than brand-name medicines. And most work just as well. Unless your healthcare provider says otherwise, most people can use the generic medicine. A common mistake is to take a generic and a brand name of the same medicine. Some people do this, thinking they are different. This can lead to harmful reactions. This is also a good reason to bring all your prescriptions in their original bottles to your healthcare visits. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2019
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