Taking Medicine Safely

Pharmacist talking to a customer about a medication

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

Safety tips

Do's and don'ts include the following: 

  • Have a routine for taking each medicine. Make it part of something you do each day, such as brushing your teeth or eating a meal.

  • When you go to the hospital or your healthcare provider’s office, bring all your current medicines in their original boxes or bottles. If you can’t do that, 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.

  • Let your healthcare provider and pharmacist know of any allergies you have and if there have been any changes in your health since you were last prescribed these medicines. 

  • Taking prescription medicines with alcohol, street drugs, herbs, supplements, or even some over-the-counter medicines can be harmful. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before using any of these things while taking a prescription medicine.

  • When filling your prescriptions, try using the same pharmacy for all your medicines. If not, let the pharmacist know what medicines you are already on.

  • Consider putting a week's worth of medicines in a container marked for each day of the week. 

  • Keep medicines out of the reach of children and pets. Be sure all medicine bottles have safety caps.

  • Keep narcotics and sedatives out of sight or in a locked box or safe.

  • Keep your medicines in a dry and cool location (not in the bathroom.) 

  • Don't use medicine that has expired or that doesn’t look or smell right. Get rid of it properly. To find out the right way to get rid of medicine:

    • Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service and ask if a medicine take-back program is available in your community.

    • Call your local pharmacy and ask the right way to get rid of the medicine.

    • Go to www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm101653 to learn how to get rid of medicines safely.

  • Medicine that comes in a container for a single dose should be used only 1 time. If you use the container a second time, it may have germs in it that can cause illness. These illnesses include hepatitis B and C. They also include infections of the brain or spinal cord (meningitis and epidural abscess). 

Using generic medicines

Medicines have brand names and generic (chemical) names. When a medicine is first made, it is 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. Most people can use the generic medicine instead of the brand-name medicine, unless their healthcare provider says otherwise.

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© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.