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Health Briefs

10 tips for using drugs more safely

These tips, brought to you by BeSmartBeWell.com, can reduce the risks related to the use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs:

  1. Share your health story.
    Tell your doctor about all your health conditions and all your medications, including OTC drugs, herbal products, and dietary supplements such as vitamins. These can interact with prescription drugs. Make an updated list (download a wallet card) and bring it to your appointments, or bring all your pill bottles with you.
  2. Ask lots of questions.
    Ask why your doctor is prescribing each drug, what risks and side effects to watch for, and whether there are treatment options that don't require medications.
  3. Take care with OTC painkillers.
    Different brands of painkillers can include the same ingredients. For example, AdvilĀ® and MotrinĀ® both include ibuprofen. Taking both means you could be getting more than the recommended amount.
  4. Make friends with your pharmacist.
    Your pharmacist is the second most important person in your medical life, right behind your doctor. Make sure he or she knows your conditions, allergies, and every drug-prescription and over the counter-you are taking.
  5. Keep your drugs safe.
    One-third of all accidental drug poisonings in children involve a grandparent's medication. Keep prescription and OTC drugs out of common areas and track how much medicine you have so you will know if someone else has taken any.
  6. Know that bathrooms are bad.
    Humidity, heat, and light can affect the drug's potency and safety so bathrooms and kitchens are the worst places to keep them. Instead, keep them cool and dry in a high dresser drawer.
  7. Do right by antibiotics.
    A prescription antibiotic may not be the right course of treatment for what ails you. Antibiotics are effective against bacteria (strep throat is a bacterial infection, for example), but not against the viruses that cause colds, flu, or coughs. When you do take an antibiotic, always finish it as prescribed. Taking drugs incorrectly or not finishing a prescribed dose helps create antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
  8. Beware of the Internet.
    Many online pharmacies work in legal grey areas, with no patient consultation and unclear drug quality controls. Check with the State Board of Pharmacy or the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to see if the online pharmacy possesses a valid pharmacy license and has met state quality standards.
  9. Take it the right way.
    Always take drugs, prescription and OTC, as directed-at the right time of day and in the right amounts and do not stop without consulting your doctor. Some long-acting medicines are absorbed too quickly when broken up, so don't chew, crush, or open capsules or split tablets unless instructed. If your medication is in liquid form, use only the included measuring device to determine the correct amount. A household spoon is not an accurate measure.
  10. Dispose of all unused and outdated drugs.
    Ask your pharmacist or local health department for disposal options. If you must throw away unused drugs, remove them from their packaging and spread them throughout your trash so they are less appealing to retrieve. And never flush unused drugs down the toilet because they work their way into the water supply.