It’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to taking medicine. Most of us aren’t doctors or pharmacists, so we just follow the instructions on the bottle (or so we think). But even the most common over-the-counter medications are powerful stuff—and should be taken with care.
Medicine mistakes are a serious problem, too. According to the National Council on Patient Information and Education, nearly three out of four American adults admit to not always taking medication as directed. And a 2009 report from the New England Healthcare Institute found that poor medication adherence costs about $290 billion per year.
The best way to lower your chances of at-home medical mistakes? Ask questions before you bring your pills or potions home. “The easiest way to prevent an error is to talk to your pharmacist,” said Keith Hodges, executive committee member for the National Community Pharmacists Association.
Beyond that, here’s how to avoid some of the most common medicine mistakes.
Mistake: Unintentionally overdosing on medications containing the same ingredient. If you don’t realize your headache medicine and your painkiller both contain acetaminophen, you might wind up with a double dose.
Solution: Read the labels carefully to make sure you’re not taking two medicines with the same ingredient.
Mistake: Relying on medicines that are no longer effective. If those allergy pills don’t seem to do the trick anymore, it might be the result of storing them in the bathroom medicine cabinet.
Solution: Humidity can reduce a drug’s potency, so find a safe, dry storage place. And check out Disposemymeds.org for tips on getting rid of expired or ineffective drugs.
Mistake: Accidentally taking a family member’s medicine. Many pill bottles look alike, and very different drugs can have similar names.
Solution: Color-code each person’s medication—some pharmacies will do this for you–so you don’t accidentally take someone else’s medicine when you’re fumbling for your glasses in the morning.
Mistake: Sharing medications with others. You might have underlying health problems that could be exacerbated by a drug prescribed for your spouse.
Solution: Stick with your own meds, no matter how tempting it is to share. Call your doctor if you’re not happy with what you’re taking.
Mistake: Not finishing a prescription. Many people start feeling better soon after beginning an antibiotic, so they stop taking it. Or they stop taking an antidepressant too soon.
Solution: Your doctor had a reason for prescribing the length of treatment, so take the entire course. For drugs like antidepressants, discuss the proper procedure for weaning yourself off the medication.
Mistake: Combining certain drugs with alcohol. You were hoping to have a glass of wine with dinner, but you’re not sure if that’s a good idea since you’re taking medication.
Solution: Read the label to make sure you won’t experience dangerous side effects from consuming alcohol with your medicine. When in doubt, abstain.
Mistake: Forgetting to take medicine on time. You’re not accustomed to taking pills every day, or maybe you’ve started a new medication, and you’re not in the habit yet.
Solution: Try setting up an app like MedsLog (www.medslog.us) on your smartphone to keep track of your medicines for you—and sound an alarm when you miss a dose.