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Use Medicines Wisely

National Pharmacy Week includes medication safety tips

MONDAY, Oct. 20, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- To mark National Pharmacy Week, the University of Maryland is reminding consumers they need to use medications wisely and responsibly.

There were 158 million medication-related problems reported in the United States, according to the 2001 study Drug Related Morbidity and Mortality: Updating the Cost of Mortality. Medication-related problems can result in hospitalization or even death.

Robert J. Michocki, chairman of the department of pharmacy practice and science at the University of Maryland, offers the following 10 steps to help consumers use medications safety and effectively:

  • Remember that herbal and dietary supplements are medications, too. Some can interact with both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and cause potentially serious side effects. Always tell your doctor or pharmacist about any supplements you're taking.
  • If you can't swallow pills, ask about alternatives. Dissolving or crushing pills to swallow them might change how the pill works and could render it less effective. Talk to your pharmacist about it. Many medications are available in liquid, sprinkle or chewable form. Some pills can be dissolved in specific liquids.
  • Ask about potential food and beverage interactions that may make medications less effective. For example, calcium-rich products such as milk and cheese can reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics. And grapefruit juice shouldn't be consumed if you're taking certain blood-pressure medications.
  • Store your medications in a medicine cabinet outside the bathroom. Steam from showers and baths may affect the potency and effectiveness of some drugs. If your pills are moist and powdery, that's an indication that they've been affected by humidity and/or changing temperatures. Talk to your pharmacist.
  • Parents should keep accurate track of their children's weight. A child's weight is the best way for a pharmacist to determine the appropriate dosage for OTC drugs.
  • Brand name and generic drugs are technically the same prescription drugs, but are priced differently. Generic drugs are manufactured using the same U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations as brand name drugs. There is little evidence that there is a difference in the therapy provided by generic and brand name drugs.
  • Ask about the active ingredients in your prescription medications. That will help you avoid mixing the active ingredients of a prescription medication with an OTC drug containing the same active ingredient, a situation that can lead to an overdose.
  • There are drugs that elderly people should not take, due to age-related physiological changes that cause drugs to react differently in the body. This is especially true if people have cardiac, psychiatric, respiratory or gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Use products that ensure you take medications at scheduled times and in appropriate amounts. Pill timers, organizers, pillboxes and specialized pill packaging can be found in pharmacies and help people better manage their medications.
  • When in doubt, consult your pharmacist. They're medication experts who understand how drugs interact in the human body. They can answer questions about your medications and instruct you on how to get the most benefit from them.

More information

Here's where you can get more drug information.

SOURCE: University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, news release, Oct. 20, 2003
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