The Do’s & Don’ts of Dosage: Medication Safety

We ask an expert for tips on the proper usage of medication. 

By Jessie Kanatzar

For many of us, prescription and over-the-counter medications are part of our everyday lives and help us to perform our daily responsibilities. Whether to alleviate pain, treat a health condition or replace a chemical deficiency, medication allows 82 percent of Americans to manage all types of illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But just like buckling your safety belt and looking both ways before crossing the street, we should remember every day to take precautions when storing and taking prescription medications. Failing to do so can lead to unexpected and undesirable consequences.

Medication misuse

The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that each year, adverse drug events – or medication-related complications – lead to 700,000 ER visits and 120,000 hospitalizations. Even more staggering is that at least 40 percent of the costs associated with adverse drug events that happen outside hospitals are estimated to be preventable, according to the Institute of Medicine.

In Missouri, we currently have one of the highest prescription drug overdose mortality rates in the United States with 17 per 100,000 people dying annually from medication misuse, which is outlined in a new report from the nonprofit organization, Trust for America’s Health. And since 1999, the report states that prescription drug-related deaths in Missouri have tripled.

In light of these alarming numbers, practicing medication safety is needed now more than ever. By taking some additional steps to ensure safety, we can hopefully minimize these instances.

Storing and Disposing

With medication safety, we often think about proper consumption and use, but proper storage of both prescription and over-the-counter medicine is just as important.

When you’re not using your medication, always be sure to store it in a cool, dry place, such as a cabinet or designated shelf. If you have young children, keep medications high enough out of their reach. Upon choosing a spot to store, make sure it’s not very bright because light can degrade your medication. Therefore, keep it away from powerful indoor lighting or windowsills.

If your medication is stored for an extended time, be aware of the expiration date and honor it. Old pills degrade over time and can even spur bacteria growth. Most over-the-counter pills expire after one year, so rather than settle on a less expensive 500-count bottle of pain reliever, go with a smaller bottle and restock when the supply runs out.

When it comes time to get rid of old medication, be mindful. Flushing pills down the drain can be harmful to the environment. Instead, remove old prescriptions through medication disposal programs, which are often offered through pharmacies and police stations, including the Kansas City Police Department.

Using and Measuring    

First off, always pay close attention to the warning labels, even if you’ve been taking the same medication for years. It’s important to make sure you’re following the consumption directions because your doctor may have altered your dosage, or the manufacturer may have made a slight change in the directions.

Directions often call for swallowing pills with water. In these cases, do not consume with other beverages, such as juice, soft drinks or coffee. Beverages that are acidic, hot or carbonated can cause the medication to break down too quickly in the stomach, as opposed to the intestine where this process is supposed to happen. This can lead to harmful consequences, including stomach ulcers.

Be sure to keep track of the dropper or other devices that are to be used with the prescription. If lost, it may seem like a household spoon is a good substitute. It’s not. The measuring devices provided by a pharmacy have been specifically designed for your intended prescription dosage. Standard teaspoons can also vary between one to nine milliliters, making them unreliable and inconsistent.

Tips for Parents

For parents, practicing medication safety with your children can ensure that they will be safe, even when you’re not around. Children should never take smaller doses of medication that is intended for adults. You should instead seek out medication that is specifically formulated for children.

Jessie Kanatzar

Of course, finding a kid-safe medication is only half the battle. As many parents know, getting your child to actually take medicine can be quite a challenge, so it may be tempting to refer to medicine as “candy.” This is never a good idea. Doing so can entice your child to look for the medicine and potentially overdose when you’re not present.

The most important lesson in safe medication is an easy one to remember:

When in doubt, always contact your pharmacist.

Jessie Kanatzar is an Everest College pharmacy technician instructor and a nationally certified pharmacy technician with years of experience in teaching and retail pharmacy.