Medication Mistakes: Take Extra Care With Your Prescriptions

Medication mistakes can cause illness, injuries, and even death. In the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands of patients experience problems caused by taking the wrong medications, not taking them when needed, or taking more than what was prescribed. Among older patients, these mistakes pose a heightened risk, both because medications act differently on the body as a person ages, and because with age, compliance issues tend to arise. Older patients can be forgetful or confused and can inadvertently skip, double, or otherwise fail to take their medications as they’ve been directed. On top of these problems, it’s been documented that a significant number of seniors forego their medications or cut down on their dosages because of concerns about their cost.

In addition to errors that can be caused by improperly taking prescription medicines, problems can be caused also by taking two medications that interact dangerously with one another. For example, you could take an over-the counter (OTC) drug containing acetaminophen without realizing that the prescription pain medication you’ve been prescribed also contains the same ingredient. This could result in a total ingestion of acetaminophen at dangerous levels, raising the risk of liver damage. Or you could take fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), a depression medication, at the same time you’re taking sumatriptan (Imitrex), a migraine drug. Taken together, the two drugs could cause serotonin syndrome, a life-threatening condition.

Taking your medications in the right quantities and at the right times during the day, and with or without food as prescribed, is extremely important not only to treat your condition, but as a matter of basic safety. We urge you to renew your commitment to follow your doctor’s prescriptions carefully and take whatever steps are necessary to avoid mistakes. Here are some tips to help you do just that:

Tips to Help You Take Your Medications Properly

First and foremost, be sure you’re informed about the drugs that you’re taking. If you don’t understand, ask! Here’s a checklist of questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the drugs that you’re taking or that you’ve just been prescribed:

  • What is the brand or generic name of the medication?
  • What condition is the medication treating, and what will it do?
  • What is the dose? How long should I take it?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • What should I do if I accidentally take more than the prescription says?
  • Should I avoid any foods, drinks, other medications or activities while taking this medicine?
  • What are the possible side effects? Which are minor, and which are serious?
  • Will this new medication interfere with my other medication(s)? If so, how?

Second, tell your doctor everything about the medications, herbs, vitamins, vaccines and supplements you’re taking or that you took since the last time you had an office visit, whether prescribed or over-the-counter.

Finally, follow safety practices when you take your medications. Keep these safety tips in mind:

  • It’s easy to confuse eardrops and eyedrops. If a medication says “otic,” it’s for the ears. If it says “ophthalmic,” it’s for the eyes.
  • Do not chew a pill unless the instructions say to do so. If you chew a pill that’s meant to be swallowed, it might not be absorbed properly.
  • Similarly, don’t cut pills, unless your doctor or pharmacist has told you to do so. Some pills are coated to prevent their immediate absorption; cutting them exposes the uncoated medicine to absorption the minute you swallow the pill.
  • Measure liquid medications correctly. Use an oral syringe or the dose cup that came with the medication, not a spoon from your kitchen.

Information for this article was obtained from Everyday Health.