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Health Information | 04/25/2023

Medication Safety at Home

By  Sandra Elman, PharmD
As our population ages, more and more people are taking multiple medications. According to a 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, nearly 89% of adults 65 and older, 75% of 50-64-year-olds, and 51% of 30-49-year-olds reported taking prescription medication. Adverse drug events are a significant cause of emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Understanding why you’re taking a particular medication, what dose to take, how often you should take it, and what time of day are just some of the keys to ensuring you stay safe.

Common Causes of Medication Errors

Medication errors can occur for a variety of reasons. Some of those include:
  • Mixing prescription medication with an over-the-counter medicine or herbal or vitamin supplement without checking for interactions.
  • Not understanding how food or alcohol interacts with a medication.
  • Abruptly stopping a medication without consulting with your healthcare provider.
  • Taking your medication incorrectly, such as only taking it twice a day when the prescription says to take it three times a day.

Ways to Avoid Medication Errors

In order to reduce the risk of medication errors and mishaps in your home and with your loved ones, we suggest you follow these tips to keep you and your family safe:
  • Keep a list of all of your current medications. If you use a health portal such as MyHealth, you can access your medication list at any time. If you have the MyChart mobile app, you can access your medication list from your mobile device. Printing a list of your medications to keep in your wallet and bringing it to every healthcare provider at each visit can be helpful. Be sure to include any over-the-counter medications, herbal or nutritional supplements, and food allergies on this list.
  • Do not share your prescription medications with others, and never take someone else’s medication.
  • Properly dispose of your expired and discontinued medications. Expired medications can lose effectiveness, and keeping discontinued medications in your home can increase the risk of medication mix-ups or improper use by others. Drug addiction often begins with the inappropriate use of medications left over from others’ prescription supplies.
  • Always follow the instructions from your healthcare provider regarding how much or how often you should take your medications.
  • Read each label on a medication bottle on a medication bottle before taking out a dose to ensure you take the correct dose for that medication.
  • Become familiar with what your medication looks like and discuss any appearance changes with your pharmacist.
  • Don’t chew, crush or break any capsules or tablets unless instructed. Some long-acting medications are absorbed too quickly when chewed, making them potentially unsafe. Other medications either won’t be effective or could make you sick if they are not swallowed whole.
  • For liquid medications, only use the measuring device that came with the medication or is intended to measure medications in the right dose range. Over- or under-dosing can occur if the correct device is not used. Note that household teaspoons and tablespoons are not very accurate. Ask your pharmacist for an appropriate measuring device (like an oral syringe) if you do not have one or if one is not provided.
  • Do not stop any of your medications without first discussing them with your clinician. Many medications need to be slowly reduced in either the size or the frequency of the dose before stopping to prevent harmful effects.
  • Never combine more than one type of medication in the same bottle. Instead, use a pill box to keep pills for the same day and time together. Consider making a printed schedule to keep track of multiple medications that need to be taken throughout the day.
  • Keep your medication in a set location so it is easier for you to remember to take them each day. Make sure to adhere to any specific storage instructions for each medication. Don’t store medicines in bathroom medicine cabinets or in direct sunlight, as humidity, heat, and light may affect the potency.
  • Avoid mix-ups. Don’t keep tubes of medication, ointments, or creams next to your tube of toothpaste, as they can easily be mixed up.
  • Make sure a family member, friend, or neighbor knows what medications you take and where to find them or a list of them in your home in case of an emergency. Consider posting this list on your refrigerator or the inside of a cabinet door.
  • Use child-proof bottles if possible, and consider locking up your medications to keep them away from children and pets. People with pets should use the same precautions in handling and storing their medications as we recommend for people with children.
If you have any questions about your medications, talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about medication safety? Here are some additional resources you may find helpful:

About The Author

Sandra Elman, PharmD

Sandra Elman, PharmD, is a clinical pharmacist. She joined Atrius Health in 2015 after completing her residency in pharmacy practice at MCPHS University and Atrius Health. Prior to residency, she graduated with a Doctorate of Pharmacy from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.

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