12 Safety Tips for Managing Your Meds

Healthy hard bodies whose ills amount to the occasional cold or case of shin splints from overdoing the marathon circuit don’t need advice on managing medications. For rest of us these common sense tips on drug safety can apply to everyone, but are but are crucial for stroke and autoimmune patients, anyone with impaired memory, or chronic illnesses that involve multiple meds.

1. Take a notebook to the doctor’s office and write down all instructions–preferably the same notebook each time. (Have a little fun–choose a notebook with cartoon characters or my personal favorite, the skull and crossbones in vivid pink by Peter Pauper Press.)

2. Know what you’re taking. Ask the doctor:

  • the name of the medication
  • what it’s for
  • how to take it (how often? what times? with food or without?)
  • how long to take it
  • what side effects to expect
  • whether there may be interactions with any other medications

Pay attention to the answers and write them down.

3. Make sure every doctor knows every drug you take, including any over-the-counter remedies. (No cheating ‘cause you don’t want the doc to know about those shyster weight-loss pills you ordered from late night TV!)

4. Watch out for drug interactions! Each time you receive a new prescription, ask the doctor about possible interactions with any other medications you’re taking, whether prescription or over-the-counter.

5. Find a pharmacy that’s convenient and seems to have a good safety culture (It’s hard, I know, with mass-market chains invading our neighborhoods like alien mother ships. Just do the best you can.)

6. Make sure you can open the bottle. If you have trouble opening child safety caps (like many stroke or arthritis patients, including me), ask for easy-open caps; but be sure to store to store them out of the reach of children.

7. Resist the urge to grab ‘n go. For every new prescription, take a minute to go over the instructions with the pharmacist before you leave the store. If you buy any new over-the-counter products, ask the pharmacist about interactions with your prescriptions.

8. Mail order? If you order prescriptions through the mail, make sure the service allows you to speak to  a pharmacist by phone if you have questions.

9. With every refill, check before you leave the store. Make sure it’s the right drug, the right brand, the correct dose, and in a bottle you can manage.

10. Have a set routine for taking your medicines.  I take my most important ones at bedtime after I brush my teeth. At pill-taking time, pause, clear your mind and pay attention to what you’re doing. (See related post STAR Check for Drug Safety.)

11. Store your medications properly. Read the package insert for instructions. Most medications do well in a cool and dry place, away from heat and light, and well out of reach of children. (Note: the warm, humidity of the bathroom is usually not the best place!) Some prescriptions require refrigeration. Don’t mix different medications in the same container.

12. Watch the expiration date. The dates are conservative and there’s almost always a little wiggle-room. But if you store your meds in the warm humidity of a bathroom they may degrade more quickly.  Discard medications that have become discolored or powdery or small strong.

Other Resources:

The Five Most Dangerous Medicine Mistakes that Way Too Many People Make

Please share your own tips for safe management of meds.