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Medication Safety

Medication instructions

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This article provides support people with basic information about medication.  It accompanies several presentations and checklists designed for the individuals you support.  These presentations and articles focus on basic information about short term illnesses.

Why do we take medication?

We take medication to help us be as healthy as possible.  We take medication to make ourselves feel better — for example, when we have headaches or muscle aches.  We may take medication to manage long term health conditions, such as seizures, diabetes or high blood pressure.

Why is it important to know about medication safety?

Medication is meant to help us, but it can be harmful if we take the wrong amount.  It can be harmful to take certain medications together.

There are people that take more than one medication each day.  Some people take more than one medication for the same health condition. Other people take more than one medication because they have more than one health condition.

If the individual you support takes more than one type of medication at a time, it is important to be sure the medications are safe to take together.  Some medications don't work well together.  Certain combinations of medications can make an individual sick.

What can you do to help the individual you support safely take medication?

1. Talk to the doctor when the individual gets a new medication.

It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions.

Encourage the individual you support to ask the doctor or pharmacist questions about their medication.  Asking questions will help the individual learn about the medication and stay safe.  Examples of questions to ask are:

  • What is the medication supposed to do?
  • How long will it be before I know whether the medication is working?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • Should the medication be taken with food or drink?
  • Is it okay to take this medication with other medication?
  • What are the side effects?
  • If I feel side effects, what should I do?
  • How should this medication be stored?
  • When does the medication expire?

2. Take a list of medications to the doctor.

When the individual you support is being treated by more than one doctor, always bring a list of the medications the individual is taking to the doctor. The doctor may not know all the medications the individual is taking.

3. Read the label on the medication bottle/package and any written instructions provided by the doctor.

The label and written instructions will tell you how the individual you support should safely take their medication.

4. Watch for side-effects. Know what to do if the individual has side effects.

Side effects are health conditions that people experience when taking medication. An example of a side effect is a dry mouth. Many side effects are common and you do not need to be concerned. The information sheet that comes with the medication will tell you which side effects are common and which are more serious. The information sheet will explain what to do if someone experiences side effects. Talk to the doctor or pharmacist about side effects.

5. Safely discard medication that has expired.

There should be a clear expiration date on the medication container. Do not use the medication if it has expired. Expired medications must be discarded safely:

  • Do not throw medication in the garbage.
  • Do not flush medication down the sink or toilet.
  • Ask the pharmacist how to discard expired medication.

Resources

Encourage the individuals you support to learn more about medication and medication safety. They can learn more by talking with health care professionals or by checking out these resources:

DDS Safety Net Power Point Presentations:

Learn About Medication Presentation
Medication Safety Presentation
Communicating About Health Presentation

Other Web Resources:

California Office of the Patient Advocate, Medication Safety
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medication Safety
Medication Safety: A Toolkit for Families

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Last updated on Wed, 09/01/2010 - 15:59