Medicine Cabinet Precautions: How to Stay Safe When Taking Prescription Medications

Organization: Author:
Mario San Bartolome, M.D., medical director, Addiction Medicine Program, Community Hospital Long Beach
Live Healthy Topics:
addiction medicine_health news

Half of the nearly 3.4 billion prescription drugs dispensed each year are taken improperly. This can lead to negative side effects, hospitalization and even death. To stay safe when taking prescription medications, it is important to know how and when you should be taking your medications.

The Basics

Prescription medications are used to treat infectious diseases, manage symptoms of chronic diseases, and help relieve pain and suffering. Generally speaking, prescription medications are safe when used as prescribed or as indicated on the label. However, there are risks involved in taking any medication, and taking them incorrectly.

Many adverse drug events are preventable. The more you know about the medication you use, the more you can ensure you're using it properly.

Know Your Background and Be Open with Your Physician

Knowing your family’s medical history is essential to proper treatment. Keeping an accurate record can help your physician decide which treatments would work well for you and what medications to stay away from. Being proactive can save you time and potentially help you stay clear of any avoidable complications.

If you are seeking help for a new medical issue and are already taking other medications, it is important that you let your physician know before they prescribe any new medications, even if they are the physician who prescribed the medications. Taking this step ensures that the new combination of medications will work together and help prevent adverse effects.

Make sure you ask your physician any questions you may have about a new prescription before you leave the office. Questions such as, “Is this medication habit forming?” will help you weigh out the risks and benefits of taking this new prescription.

All Medications Are Additives

When it comes to combining medications keep in mind that all medications are additives. Meaning, when one or more are taken together, they can improve, strengthen or otherwise alter the effects of one another.

Any combination of medications should be approved by a physician. Underlying medical issues and improper combinations can lead to respiratory depression or even death. It is especially important to avoid combining any medications when you’re drinking. Drinking while taking prescribed medications or even over-the-counter medications, such as Advil® and Tylenol®, can cause liver damage and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Abuse Can Lead to Addiction

For some people, exposure to certain medications can lead to addiction. Using prescriptions as described and not abusing medications will make it easier for your body to maintain a healthy balance. Combining medications without proper instruction and using medications when not needed, can lead to a serious adverse effects and in some cases dependency. As a result, your brain will now tell your body that you need medications when you do not.

After surgery or serious injuries your physician may prescribe you pain medication and direct you to use it as needed. You should never abuse pain medication and only use the medication as directed. “As needed” is generally accompanied with a certain time frame, such as every four to six hours. Prescriptions should only be taken when the pain is too much to bear and not as a precursor to pain. If used incorrectly, these drugs can prolong your recovery time and make it harder for your body to heal correctly.

Abuse and addiction are not limited to prescription medications. Over the counter drugs, such as Affrin® or Robitussin-DM®, also can lead to problems when taken improperly. In order to truly stay clear of all avoidable medical issues, you must use medications only when necessary and as directed.

Staying safe involves more than knowing the name of your prescription. Remember that your health is always on the line when you are using any new medication. Be diligent when researching a new medication and do not take anything without a physician’s approval — your health is on the line.