Medication Best Practices

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Medication Best Practices

Most American households have a medicine cabinet, or at least a few different medications on hand between vitamins, dietary supplements, and various prescriptions. Out of sight and out of mind, some might even forget they’re there. It’s crucial you review items in your cabinet regularly to keep your medications effective and your household safe. Below are some do’s and don’ts from health experts.


DO: Clean out the cabinet

If you have old medications sitting in your cabinet, it’s time to look at the expiration date to see if you need to throw them out. Most medications have it printed on the label—if you don’t see one, a good rule of thumb is that prescription medications will last about a year from the date they are filled. If you’re unsure, it’s always safest to check with your pharmacist. Most medications become less effective over time, and some can even be harmful if taken past the expiration date.


DON’T: Store your medications on the kitchen counter

Keep all medications out of reach, especially if you have curious children or pets in your home! Be sure to also ensure that all lids are tightly secured with the original child lock seal.


DON’T: Toss your old medications in the trash or down the drain

Remember, you shouldn’t ever flush a prescription or over-the-counter medication down the toilet or drain unless it’s specifically stated as acceptable by the drug manufacturer. You also want to avoid throwing old medications in the trash, as they may be found and used by others or become harmful to the environment.

Instead, twice a year, the Drug Enforcement Agency has a national event called Take Back Day, where you can drop off old prescription medications at conveniently located collection sites. This year, National Prescription Drug Take Back Day lands on Saturday, April 25th. There are also permanent drop off locations available year-round.


DO: Use your medication as prescribed!

If you want your medication to work correctly, you must take it as directed. Taking too much, too little, or at the wrong times can result in underdosing or overdosing. For example, take antibiotics- many people will stop taking them when they start feeling better, but it’s necessary to finish the course of treatment to ensure your infection doesn’t return.

If you ever feel your medication regimen isn’t working for you, talk to your physician or pharmacist to find a solution.


DO: Prepare before visiting the pharmacy

At the start of the new year, most people are mailed new insurance cards. Remove your old cards and replace them with new ones—even if they appear to be identical. Small changes on the insurer’s end may end up affecting your care if you don’t have the most updated information. At the least, it may save you time at the pharmacy.

Another way to save time at the pharmacy is to call ahead for your refills. Ask if your pharmacy has automatic refills, and if they don’t, be sure to monitor the amount of medication you have and aim to call for a refill at least five days in advance. Going without medication for a few days can be dangerous for certain conditions like heart problems and diabetes.


DO: Keep your doctor(s) in the loop

If you see multiple doctors, you may be under the impression they are all updated on your medical history. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. Healthcare providers may rely on electronic medical records but not all providers have access to the same databases, especially if they operate out of a private practice.

The following examples are typical healthcare providers that won’t have access to the same medical records as your other providers:

  • Mental health doctors
  • Eye doctors
  • Foot doctors
  • Dentists
  • Pharmacists

The good news: any of your healthcare providers can fax your medical history to another office if requested, so make it a habit to keep all your providers informed about your medical conditions.


DO: Make a list of all your medications

This list should include all over-the-counter medications and or supplements—both for yourself and your health care providers. If you take several medications, knowing what each of them treat and how they affect your body can be difficult, but certain drug interactions and side-effects can be dangerous so it’s important to carefully understand all your medications.

Most people assume oral medications are the only medications they need to inform their healthcare providers about, but when you make your list be sure to include the following:

  • Topical patches
  • Eye drops
  • Ear drops
  • Nasal sprays
  • Vitamins
  • Dietary supplements
  • Inhalers
  • Injections
  • Infusions
  • Implants
  • Any medications you only use as needed
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