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'Talk About Prescriptions' Month

October is "Talk About Your Prescriptions" Month. Did you know that over two-thirds of all doctors' visits end with a prescription being written, making medicines the most common form of intervention (National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, National Center for Health Statistics, 2001).

Moreover, since the use of prescription medicines, over-the-counter medications, vitamins and/or herbal supplements, has become an increasingly important part of quality medical care, the subject of medication management and safety is vitally important. The following information provides important facts, as well as helpful tips to ensure you and your family, know how to use and manage prescriptions safely and effectively.

The Facts About Prescription Medicine

  1. A product is a medicine or drug if it:
    • Changes the way your body works OR
    • Treats or prevents a disease
  2. Types of medicines include:
    • Prescription medicines, such as blood pressure medicines, antibiotics, or birth control pills
    • Over-the-Counter (OTC) drugs are medicines you can buy without a prescription, including aspirin, antacids, laxatives, and cough medicine.
  3. When used correctly, medicines can lead to:
    • Better health
    • Improved quality of life
    • Longer life, especially for people with cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions
  4. Medicines can make us better and prevent illnesses. Medicines also have risks.
  5. It's important to weigh the benefits and risks for each medicine.

Generic vs. Brand

A generic drug (called by its chemical name) has the same active ingredients as the brand name. The generic works the same way in the body and is a copy of the brand name drug in dosage, safety, strength, how it is taken, quality, performance and intended use.

Dietary Supplements and Herbal Remedies

Dietary supplements and herbal remedies do not have to follow the same strict rules that prescription drugs have to follow by law. That means these products do not have to:

  • Be proven safe; manufacturers are not required to record, investigate or report any information they find about related injuries or sickness
  • Work
  • Be clean, pure or actually contain what the label claims

What's the Difference? Medicine Use: Risks and Problems

Medicines can cause problems, even if used correctly.

Allergic reactions occur when your body's defense system reacts in a bad way to a medicine. These might include:

  • Hives, itching or a rash
  • Narrowing of the throat, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath

Side effects are undesired effects of a medicine that can occur even though the medicine is being taken correctly at the recommended dose. These might include:

  • Headache, dizziness, or an upset stomach, which are common side effects
  • Liver failure, which is a very rare side effect

Potential medicine use problems

If you've had problems with your medicine(s), you're not alone. In fact, one out of every three people experience at least one medicine-related problem.

These might include:

  • Over use taking more than prescribed or recommended by the healthcare provider or label. This can happen by accident maybe you forgot you took your blood pressure medicine this morning, so you take it again.
  • Under use taking less than prescribed or recommended, or by missing or skipping doses.
  • Not following instructions or taking medicines that are not prescribed for you.
  • Drug interactions occur when a drug interacts with another drug, food, or alcohol and changes the way the drug acts in the body.

Helpful Tips to Avoid Problems

  1. Learn about your health conditions and medicines. Talk with your healthcare providers, including your pharmacist.
  2. Make a medication list that includes:
    • Names of all medications you use, including any OTCs, dietary supplements and herbal remedies
    • Who prescribed each medication
    • What each medication is used for
    • How often and at what dose (amount) you take each
    • Whether refills are needed

Be sure to update the list when you start taking something new or if a medicine dose is changed by your healthcare provider.

Make a copy of your medicine list for your records. Make extra copies to share with your loved ones and healthcare providers.

Your primary care provider should review all of your medications at least annually to make sure you are only taking those you need. Remind him or her of any allergies or problems you've had with certain medicines. Don't stop taking prescribed medicine without checking with him/her first.

  1. Always read the Drug Facts label (found on the back or side of OTC packages), package inserts or Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) leaflets (often stapled to your prescription medicine bag). These can provide useful information to help you get the best results and avoid problems.

    These tell you:
    • What your medicine is used for
    • How to take your medicine correctly (how often you should take it and at what amount or dosage)
    • Possible side effects or allergic reactions to watch out for
    • Warnings
    • Storage instructions
  2. Try to use one pharmacy so that your prescription records are all in one place. This helps your pharmacist monitor which medications you take and let you know about potential drug interactions.
  3. Double check your prescriptions at the pharmacy counter (be sure that your name and the drug name are correct).
  4. Never take someone else's medicine.
  5. Safely store medicines away from children. Check expiration dates. Keep all medications in the bottle, box or tube that they came in. For tips on safe storage and how to safely throw away unused medications, read the "NCPIE Tips on Safe Storage & Disposal" at
  6. Contact your healthcare provider if you have any problems with your medicine.

Ask Questions!


You may want to ask:

  1. What am I taking this medicine for?
  2. Is it a brand or generic drug?
  3. Does this new prescription mean I should stop taking any other medicines I'm taking now?
  4. How it should be taken.
    • How much?
    • How often and what time of day (For example, does four times a day mean during the daytime or within a 24 hour period)?
    • With or without food?
    • When should I stop taking the medicine?
    • Will I need a refill?
  5. What side effects can I expect? What should I do if I have a problem?
  6. How do I tell if the medication is working?
  7. Are there foods, drinks (including alcoholic beverages), other medicines, or activities to avoid while I'm taking this medicine?
  8. What if I miss a dose?
  9. Are there any tests I need to take while I'm on this medicine?
  10. Where and how should it be stored?

Don't be afraid to ask your healthcare provider questions or review information that is not clear to you. Find out as much as you can about the medications, including dietary supplements and OTCs, you take. By taking the time to ask questions now, you may be preventing problems later. Take notes and remember that your pharmacist can help answer a lot of these questions, too. Remember, you are the best judge of your body, and are in the "driver's seat" for your health.

For more information about "Talk About Prescriptions" Month, visit:

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