Learn Tips for Taking Prescriptions Safely

Poisoning from medications happens all to frequently, and people 65 and older are especially at risk. In fact, each year there are nearly 100,000 adverse drug-related emergency hospitalizations in the U.S. for adults 65 or older. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has a Take Your Medications Safely program designed prevent these emergencies by training older adults and their caregivers about medication safety and the Poison Help’s toll-free helpline (1-800-222-1222) and extensive free services. Poison Help’s helpline also

Below is an excerpt of some good prevention tips from Poison Help. These tips, along with other info can be downloaded from their 7-page PDF booklet, Safe Medicine Use and Poison Prevention Tips.

In addition, the National Coalition on Aging (NCOA) is hosting a train-the-trainer webinar on this information on Monday, June 18th at 3pm EDT.


For using medicine safely, it is important to know as much as possible about your medicines to prevent poisonings.

Know Your Medicines

  • Know the names, reason for use, and possible side effects.
  • Review all your medicines with your doctor or pharmacist. Do this at least once a year, or when you start using a new medicine.
  • Know how and when to use your medicine, how much to use, and for how long. Never use more medicine than prescribed. Using more does not mean you will get better faster. Also, using too much medicine can poison you.

Keep a Current Medicine List

  • Bring a list of all the medicines you are using to your doctor’s appointments. This includes all prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

Keep All Medicines Locked Up and Out of Children’s Reach

  • No container can promise to be child proof.
  • Store your medicines in a safe place so that children cannot get to them. This will prevent accidental poisonings.

Call Poison Help (1-800-222-1222) If You Think:

  • A medicine was not taken as directed.
  • Too much medicine was taken by accident.

TIPS For Using Over-the-Counter Medicine Safely

Common over-the-counter (OTC) medicines include pain relievers, cold medicines, laxatives to cause a bowel movement, and antacids for heartburn. Many of these can cause problems when used with other medicine. To prevent problems, you should:

  • Read the Drug Facts Label
  • Pay attention to what is listed under Active Ingredients—its name, what it does, and how much is in each pill or teaspoon (5ml). These are parts of the medicine that make it work.
  • For more information about the Drug Facts label, visit www.fda.gov/medsinmyhome.
  • Compare the Active Ingredients
  • Make sure the active ingredients are not the same for two or more medicines that you are using. Too much can harm you.
  • Check With Your Pharmacist or Doctor
  • Know what OTC medicines to avoid using with your prescription medicines.

TIPS for Caregivers

  • Keep a Current Medicine List
  • This includes all prescription medicines, OTC medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
  • Plan Ahead to Refill Prescriptions On Time
  • Get prescriptions refilled early to avoid running out of medicine. Make sure the right medicine is being used at the right time, in the right amount, and the way it is prescribed.
  • Prevent Bad Interactions Between Medicines
  • Tell health care professionals about all medicines the older adult is using. The information is important to share before a new medicine is prescribed.
  • Work with a pharmacist or doctor to make it safe for older adults to use medicine correctly.

And remember, if you have questions at any time, you can always call Poison Help’s helpline (1-800-222-1222). They are available 24/7, and will connect you to a nurse, pharmacist, or other expert in your local helpline office. They also offer bilingual and translation services.

For more information on Poison Help and their Taking Your Medicines Safely program, visit: http://www.poisonhelp.hrsa.gov/resources/safemedicine/index.html.

Karen Joy Fletcher

Our blogger Karen Joy Fletcher is CHA’s Communications Director. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she is the online “public face” of the organization, provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare and other health care issues. She is responsible for digital content creation, management of CHA’s editorial calendar, and managing all aspects of CHA’s social media presence. She loves being a “communicator” and enjoys networking and collaborating with the passionate people and agencies in the health advocacy field. See her current articles.