Read the Label Before Taking the Medicine

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An important part of good health is properly taking medicines. What is the dose, what type of medicine and how often should you take it? The printed material on our medicine bottles and our food containers is important information that many Americans either misinterpret or neglect to read.

Tens of millions of people in the United States depend on prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications to sustain their health—as many as 3 billion prescriptions are written annually according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Too many people, however, suffer unnecessary injuries, and some die as a result of preventable medication errors.
The FDA believes that many of these medication-related risks are manageable if parties committed to the safe use of medications work together.

Many of these problems stem from not reading, misreading or not understanding the medication label. To reduce the risk of harm from adverse drug events, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends adults to: 

  • Keep a list of your medicines
  • Ask questions
  • Keep up with any blood testing recommended by your doctor
  • Take pain relievers and antibiotics only as directed

Navigating through the ever-changing labels created by retailers can be challenging. Fortunately, in spring 2013, the FDA issued a new regulation to assure all over-the-counter drug labels look similar and provide the same information to consumers.

Every pharmacy has its own label design but the basics – name, address, type of medicine, dosage and dosage instructions – should always be there. Often, the problem is the lack of consistency on the labels with the words and numbers in different places. That’s why it is important to read the label and pay attention to where all the information is.

Here’s a check list for patients after receiving a prescription from their pharmacy:

  • Check for your name
  • Check for your physician’s name
  • Check the name of the drug and the dosage
  • Check the directions

Most pharmacies provide information describing the medication’s color, size and shape which helps eliminate confusion that can arise when a prescription drug has been switched from a brand name to a generic brand. A generic medication can look different when manufactured by two different companies. For instance, a water pill can be a pink or white pill or large or small. 

There are many situations where patients have different pharmacies for different things, but almost all pharmacies send the prescriptions electronically and it can be confusing. Finding one pharmacy and sticking with it can be very helpful.

Patients need to understand the directions for taking a medication. For instance, people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) commonly have two inhalers; one for everyday use and the other to be used only when needed. Sometimes, patients are using the inhaler prescribed for ‘as needed’ situations on a daily basis because they see fast results. This can cause serious problems. 

Adverse drug events (ADE) are the reason for 700,000 visits to the emergency room each year. Physicians encourage patients to take ALL their medication bottles – prescription, herbal and over-the-counter – to their doctor visits every time.  The physician will update the medical record and review for potential interactions.  Be sure to ask your physician any questions you may have regarding medications, labels, dosage instructions and side effects.

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