May 8, 2009

Taking Your Medicine Safely

By Mayte Prida

We are fortunate to live in an age when prescription medicines are readily available to cure or treat everything from hypertension and ulcers to cancer and Alzheimer’s. Every day, millions of Americans rely on these medicines to live longer, healthier, more productive lives.

Every medicine – prescription or otherwise – carries with it potential benefits and risks. If your doctor prescribes a medication, it is because he or she believes the benefits to your health outweigh the risks or side effects. Still, it is essential for you, the patient, to understand your health condition and treatment options, and to ask questions about your prescription medicines. An informed patient is better able to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks associated with their prescription drugs.

To get the most from your medicines, the first place to start is with your doctor and pharmacists. Follow their instructions about taking medicines, and if those instructions aren’t clear, ask questions! It’s easy to feel rushed when you’re meeting with a health care provider, but take time to get all the information. For example, did you know that taking certain medicines with grapefruit juice can turn normal doses of a drug into a toxic overdose? When in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist and read the information that comes with your prescription; most medicines are best taken with plain old water.

How you fill your prescription is also important. Globally, the sale of counterfeit medicines is on the rise. Law enforcement agencies are working overtime to help ensure the U.S. drug supply system is not compromised. The best way to protect yourself is to get your medicines from a safe source—a licensed U.S. pharmacist. A licensed pharmacist will be able to answer your questions, warn you of potential side effects, and help you identify potential problems from drug interactions.

Sometimes following instructions is easier said than done. Medicines may cause side effects, or you may feel better and want to stop before finishing your medicines. Many people think they are allergic to a medicine when they are really experiencing a side effect. However, some side effects may be too severe to tolerate. Tell your doctor immediately if you are having symptoms that you think may be caused by your medicine.

If you have expired prescriptions in your medicine cabinet, it’s important that you dispose of them properly to ensure they don’t accidentally harm someone or our environment. With a few exceptions, you should not flush unused medications or pour them down a sink or drain. Instead, dispose of expired or unused medicines in the household trash after taking these few steps to ensure you protect children and pets from potentially negative effects:

· Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), crush it or add water to dissolve it.

· Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.

· Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.

· Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription label) from all medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.

America’s pharmaceutical research companies are committed to working with providers, pharmacists and patients to help ensure that our medicines are being used appropriately. We recognize that medicines help no one if a patient can’t afford them. That’s why we sponsor the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA). Since its launch in April 2005, PPA has helped connect more than 5.5 million patients in need to programs that provide either free or nearly free medicines. For more information, patients can call 1-888-4PPA-NOW or visit

Mayte Prida, a nationally recognized television personality, producer and author, is a national spokeswoman for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a patient assistance program clearinghouse.

Return to the Frontpage