Do you use and store your medicines properly?
5 essential tips for using medicine safely
September is Pharmacy Month, and the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) is using this time to remind consumers to use medicines wisely. Abuse and misuse of over-the-counter and prescription medication results in serious health issues, addiction, drug-resistant illnesses and deaths.
The unsafe use of medication and not adhering to dosage and storage instructions, pose the risk of undermining the effectiveness of the medicine and may result in serious complications for the user and for the community at large.
“The ICPA is calling on all South Africans to use medicines wisely to ensure that it works as intended, and to avoid complications that may occur as a result of misuse – such as addiction and the creation of superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics,” explains Jackie Maimin, CEO of the ICPA.
“Throughout September, community pharmacies across the country will be embarking on an awareness drive around the safe use and storage of medicines.”
The ICPA provides the following guidance on some of the key points in the proper use of medicines
- Take medicines exactly as prescribed to minimise side-effects
You can lower your chances of side effects from medicines by following directions carefully. “Some side effects may be mild, like an upset stomach, but other side effects can be more serious, like damage to your organs. When you follow the directions on the medicine label, or from your pharmacist, you get the best results,” explains Maimin.
- Make sure you complete a course of antibiotics
It is essential that you take your course of antibiotic medicines exactly as prescribed. Don’t stop taking the medication before the entire course is completed and don’t use old antibiotics that you have left over from a previous infection. Antibiotics are prescribed for specific types of infection and you cannot assume that the antibiotic will be effective for a similar illness especially if you have recently taken that antibiotic.
- Don’t share your prescription medication
It seems simple enough: You’re sick, a family member or friend has some left-over prescription medication that is just going to go to waste … so why not take it yourself? The ICPA cautions that this should never be done for a number of reasons. “It may not be the correct medicine for your illness; it may be too strong and you may not really need it; you could become sicker as an antibiotic prescribed for someone else might not work for the illness you have and could make it worse by delaying proper treatment and allowing bacteria to multiply; everyone should finish their medicine themselves or take it back to the pharmacy for responsible destruction; prescriptions are prescribed with one person in mind and are also dosed for your size and condition; the potential for negative drug interactions is high as mixing certain medications with certain foods, drinks, dietary supplements and other medications can have devastating effects, so randomly taking someone else’s medication can compromise your health further,” says Maimin.
- Store and dispose of medicine correctly
The ICPA advises that many environmental factors can damage your medication, including heat, air, light, and moisture. Exposing medicines to the wrong conditions can render them ineffective, or even harmful. “It’s important to remember that where you store your medicines can affect their potency, efficacy and safety,” says Maimin.
Every medicine should be stored, as far as possible, in its original container which should be tightly closed, to prevent exposure to air and moisture, away from direct sunlight – in a cool dark cupboard, out of the reach of children. The bathroom cabinet is not a good place to store medicine and never keep medicines in the cubbyhole of your car. Certain medicines may require storage in a fridge between 2-8°C – keep them separate from food to prevent cross contamination and don’t allow them to freeze.
Environmental factors affect medication and conversely medication can adversely affect our environment. More and more pharmaceutical products are finding their way into our rivers and drinking water. Don’t flush medicine down the toilet or throw it into the rubbish. For safety reasons and the health of our environment, return all unused medicine to your clinic, hospital or pharmacy for responsible disposal.
“When it comes to the proper use, storage and disposal of medicines your local community pharmacists can assist you with anything that you need to know – if you are unsure or just require further information speak to your pharmacist,” concludes Maimin.
“Also, always check the expiry date on your medication. Don’t use expired medicines as the effectiveness may have deteriorated with age, or they may have become toxic. Consult with your pharmacist about disposing of expired medications safely.”
Keep all medicines out of the reach of children and/or pets.
- Misuse or overuse of some medicines may lead to addiction
Certain classes of medication have the potential to cause dependence. These include, but are not limited to, the opioid painkillers (codeine and morphine), tranquillisers, sleeping tablets, stimulants and appetite suppressants. Be cautious if you are using any of these types of medicine for a prolonged period that you do not become addicted to them. “Over-the- counter pain medication containing codeine is a common culprit. If you find yourself becoming over reliant on any medication, or requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect, speak to your pharmacist, who can give advice and assist you in finding alternatives, or refer you to a counsellor for further assistance in breaking the addiction cycle.