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Taking Prescription Medications

image Most people have taken prescription medications at one time or another. Some people take them on an ongoing basis to treat a chronic condition, while others take them for shorter periods of time to treat medical problems that arise. If you are taking 1 or more prescription medication, it is important that you take steps to make sure you are taking them safely and properly.

Learning About Your Medications

When you receive a prescription for a medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist the following questions:

Be sure to discuss any concerns you have about taking the medication with your doctor. If you are diagnosed with a new medical condition or are pregnant or breastfeeding, for example, ask your doctor if you can continue taking your medication. Do not stop taking your medication unless the doctor has told you to.

Your doctor or pharmacist should be able to answer most of your questions and provide you with written information about your medication. The drug label and supplemental written information will detail what the drug is used for, how it should be taken, and how to reduce drug interactions and unwanted side effects. If you still have trouble with a label or keeping a schedule, have a family member or friend help you sort it out.

Storing Your Medications Safely

Different medications should be stored in different ways. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how you should store the medication and whether it should be refrigerated. Generally, medications should be stored in their original containers and never in the same container as another type of medication. It is best to store mediations in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Warm, humid environments, such as bathrooms, are not ideal.

Regularly check the expiration dates of the medications in your cabinet and promptly dispose of any expired medications. If there is no expiration date listed, you should consider the medication expired 6 months after it was purchased.

Avoiding Drug Interactions

You are at highest risk for drug interactions if you are taking more than 1 medication, but you can experience an interaction even if you are taking just 1. Drug interactions can make medications more or less effective, cause unwanted side effects, or harm your health.

There are 4 types of drug interactions:

One of the best ways to avoid drug interactions is to keep a current list of all of the over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, herbs, dietary supplements, vitamins, and minerals you are taking, and share the list with your doctor and pharmacist. Try to use one pharmacy, so the pharmacist has a record of all your prescriptions, and if you see more than one doctor, keep all of your doctors up-to-date on the medications you are taking.

Know the best times to take your medications. There are several ways you can set up reminders, from a calendar to a smartphone app.

Traveling With Medications

If you are taking a prescription medication and are traveling away from home, do the following:

Special Considerations for Children

Children are at increased risk of accidental poisonings because of an overdose or misuse of medications. Taking certain precautions can help parents and caregivers avoid accidental poisonings in children.

First, avoid taking medications in front of children, since they are prone to imitating the actions of adults. Do not attempt to coerce children into taking medications by calling it candy. Keep all medications in child-resistant containers stored out of site and reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

US Food and Drug Information


Health Canada

Healthy Alberta


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Drug interactions: what you should know. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: Updated September 25, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2016.

Taking medicines. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: Accessed June 23, 2016.

Buying & using medicine safely. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: Updated August 28, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2016.

Your medicine: Be smart. Be safe. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Available at: Accessed June 23, 2016.

Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 7/18/2014