Medicine Safety: A Toolkit for Families


When taken correctly, medicines can go a long way to help relieve symptoms (for example, pain relief or upset stomach), fight certain infections and even improve the functioning and quality of life of those with common chronic illnesses such as arthritis, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes or depression.

If your family is like most, your medicine cabinet is probably full of medicines, from over-the-counter pain relievers to prescription drugs, multi-vitamins and herbal remedies. There are probably bottles of medicines that you don’t even remember picking up at the pharmacy.

It can be hard to get a handle on all of the medicines your family members take, but it’s important to be in the know to protect their health and safety. Did you know most Americans fail to ask questions about their medicines, and half don’t use their medicines as prescribed?

It’s true. And while medicines have lots of benefits—not the least of which is helping to make you and your loved ones feel better—they can also be harmful if not used properly.

This toolkit will help you protect yourself and your loved ones. It provides practical information about:
Avoiding medication misuse
Getting the facts about your family’s medicines
Keeping a family medical record
Tips for safe medicine use in children and older adults and during pregnancy
Questions to ask your health team

Bottom line: You are your family’s best advocate. By learning about the benefits and risks of medicines, you can help everyone get the most from their medicines, avoid problems and stay safe.

When in doubt, always ask your family doctor, other prescriber, nurse or pharmacist.

Protect Your Family: Get the Most from Your Medicines

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professionals to understand why a certain medicine is recommended, what side effects to watch for and any possible interactions with what you are currently using.
Know what you and your family members are taking - know the ingredients; when, how and how long to use medicines; as well as what they are supposed to do and when to expect results, and when to contact your doctor or pharmacist if you experience a problem.
Read and re-read the label, follow the instructions and always double check you have the right medicine for the right person.
Avoid interactions by knowing which other medicines, dietary supplements, foods and/or beverages might cause problems if used with your prescription medicine.
Pay attention to the medicine’s effects. Ask your children or partner how certain medicines are making them feel.

Remember the 3 R’s for Safe Medication Use

1. All medicines, prescription and nonprescription, have RISKS as well as benefits. You need to weigh these risks and benefits carefully for every medicine you take.
2. Respect the power of your medicine and the value of medicines properly used.
3. Take Responsibility for learning about how to take your medication safely.