Avoiding Medication Mistakes

Protect yourself against these common, possibly costly mistakes

At least 1.5 million Americans are sickened, injured, or killed each year as a result of errors in prescribing, dispensing, and taking medications, according to the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization.  To stay safe, avoid these common medication mistakes.

Proper Storage:  The bathroom might not be the best place to store medications.  It’s hot and humid in the bathroom, and that can make medications break down more quickly and lose their effectiveness.  Not to mention the lack of privacy; when you have guests over, the most common place that people store their medication is in the bathroom cabinet.  Keeping medications in a secure or locked cabinet located in the kitchen or bedroom is a safer option.  Make sure to keep those cabinets secure from children and pets. Proper

Measurements:  Most people know that a teaspoonful is about 5ml or cc in volume.  However, not all teaspoons are the same.  Some teaspoons have been found to hold a range of 2.5 ml to 7.5 ml of a liquid.  When your medication calls for 5 ml and you use an ordinary household teaspoon from your kitchen, you could receive either half of the prescribed or recommended dosage or up to 150% more than you need.  To ensure accurate dosing, use an oral dosing syringe or a medicine spoon.  Both items can be purchased or are available for free at your pharmacy.

Dosing and Warning Labels:  When taking your medication, take the time to read the dosing instructions carefully and pay special attention to the warning labels or section.  It is extremely important to know what you are taking, when to take it, how to take it, and what not to take it with.  Some medications must be taken on an empty stomach, and some must be taken with food, milk, or plenty of water.  As a general rule, you should never take medication with alcohol or products containing alcohol.  If you skip a dose, contact your prescriber or pharmacist for instructions on getting back on schedule.

Mixing pills in a bottle:  We all know how convenient it is to fill one bottle with all of your medications.  However, this is very dangerous for many reasons.  Some pills look like other pills in shape, color, and size.  For example, the prescription sleep aid zolpidem (Ambien®) looks very much like the antihistamine loratadine (Claritin®) and the hypertensive drug furosemide (Lasix®).  Mixing these up and taking the wrong dose of any combination could cause excessive dehydration, sleepiness, or both.  Another important lesson on mixing medications in one bottle is that if you are stopped by a law enforcement officer, you must have proper labeling on your prescription medication to prove it is yours.  Failure to have proper labeling may cause some serious inconveniences in trying to explain what the medications are and to whom they belong.  Be safe, and keep those medications in their original bottles.