Medication Safety Articles


Your pharmacy may provide you with some prescription medicines still in their original boxes. These include ointments and creams, asthma inhalers, certain eye and ear drops, and even pills. Your pharmacist may then place a label with directions for taking or using this medicine on the outside box, not on the medicine container inside.

As each New Year begins, it's a great time to see if any of your medicines should be discarded because they are too old or no longer needed. On prescription bottles, the label will often tell you when the medicine should be discarded. On over-the-counter medicines and sample medicines, the expiration date (the date it should be discarded) is often printed on the label under "EXP," or stamped without ink into the bottom of a bottle, carton, or the crimp of a tube.

One in three Americans uses herbal products to manage the symptoms of illness and improve health. In general, experts agree that herbal products are milder and safer than prescription drugs. But herbals act like medicines in the body. They can cause problems if too much is taken, if used too long, or if taken along with certain other medicines.

Some medicines are supplied in patches that you apply to your skin. The medicine reaches your body by going through the blood vessels in your skin. If you warm your skin, it gets red because the blood vessels widen. The wider your blood vessels are, the more medicine your body absorbs. Warming your skin with heating pads or with lots of physical activity can cause too much medicine in the patch to be absorbed. This is especially dangerous when using patches that relieve pain.

If you take Coumadin (warfarin) to prevent blood clots, you probably know that you need periodic blood tests to make sure the dose of your medicine is correct. After your doctor reviews the results of these tests, he may ask you to take more or less of the medicine. Sometimes your doctor may even tell you to stop taking the medicine for a few days, or until your next blood test.

A pediatrician prescribed 1/4 teaspoonful of Rondec-DM syrup (brompheniramine, dextromethorphan, and pseudoephedrine) four times each day for a child with a bad cold. This medicine is used to treat coughing and a runny or stuffy nose.

Did you know that you might be using your asthma inhaler long after the medicine is gone? Sometimes it’s hard to tell when an inhaler is empty. If you have a newer dry powder inhaler, like Flovent Diskus (fluticasone propionate), it may come with a built-in dose counter to let you know when it’s empty. Some of the newer inhalers show a particular color when the canister is empty. But the older type inhalers, like Ventolin and Proventil (both albuterol), have no built-in mechanism to help you know when the canister is empty.

A diabetic woman who couldn't see well accidentally put drops for her blood sugar monitoring device in her eyes. The bottle looked just like the eye drops she used for glaucoma. Both bottles had yellow caps and black lettering on the label. Another woman grabbed what she thought was a bottle of natural tears and put a few drops into each eye.

My elderly mother has a hard time swallowing her medicine. Can I just crush her pills and mix them into her food? Or can she chew them? That depends on what she is taking. Some medicines are specially prepared to deliver the medicine to your body slowly, over time.

Before a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, patients are told to remove all metal objects they may be wearing. They are also asked whether they have any metal inside them. Things like pacemakers, prosthetic hips, or retained bullets and shrapnel may cause problems during the test.

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