Winterize Your Medicine Cabinet: Resources for Medication Safety
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Ten percent of all hospital admissions are the result of individuals not taking medications correctly. Twenty-eight percent of all hospital admissions for those over 65 are caused by medical non-compliance. Many adults over 60 years of age take two or more prescriptions, with around 20% taking five or more in a single month. The health consequences of misunderstanding how to take a medication or taking an expired medication can be significant – even deadly.
The following resources provide authoritative information on prescription and over-the-counter medications.
- DailyMed (https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/). From the National Library of Medicine (NLM), provides high quality information on over 135,000-marketed drugs. Search by drug name or drug class and receive an abundance of information on adverse reactions, patient counseling information, consumer health information, material for breastfeeding mothers, clinical trial information, and biomedical literature resources. You can also research veterinary drugs.
- Drug Information Portal (https://druginfo.nlm.nih.gov/drugportal/). Also from the NLM, this resource provides quick access to quality drug information. The site contains information on over 86,000 drugs and is searchable by drug name or category. In addition to links to MedlinePlus for consumer information, the database pulls additional information for breastfeeding mothers, clinical trials and US Food and Drug Administration information (FDA).
- LactMed (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501922/). From the NLM, this peer-reviewed database assists breastfeeding mothers and their healthcare team understand potential effects of drugs on breastfeeding infants. Developed by a pharmacist, the site contains frequently used complementary and alternative medicine products.
- LiverTox (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547852/). From the NLM, this resource provides current, accurate information on liver injury attributable to prescription and nonprescription medications, herbals and dietary supplements.
- MedlinePlus (https://medlineplus.gov/druginformation.html) is the premier consumer health resource in English and Spanish from the NLM. In addition to information on health topics in English and Spanish, there is a wealth of information on drugs, supplements and herbal topics. This is a great site to learn about prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications – including side effects and dosing.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) (https://www.nccih.nih.gov) provides research-based information on all aspects of complementary and alternative medicine. Of particular interest is the use and side effects of herbs and botanicals, and information on clinical trials for these substances. This site is available in English and Spanish.
Avoiding Medication Errors
Keeping a Personal Health Record (PHR) can help reduce medication errors, and assist healthcare providers and family members if you are unable to communicate your medication history. It is also an invaluable resource for all of your personal health history. A PHR is different from the medical records a healthcare team keeps. A PHR can be information that you maintain and keep current, or provided by another source such as your healthcare provider, insurer, employer, or a commercial product. There are several free tools available to help you collect, track, and share prescription drug and over the counter medication information.
- The FDA has My Medicine Record to help you keep track of medicines and dietary supplements. Once the form is filled out, you can print out and share with caregivers, doctors, pharmacists, or other health professionals.
- com has My Med Notes, a free personal medication eRecord. You can receive instant access to detailed warnings and drug interactions, email notifications of drug warnings, access easy-to-read health information, and generate printer-friendly reports to share with caregivers or your doctor.
Pill Identification Resources
Reliable identification of pills can lessen medication errors. Here are a few free resources:
- Drugs.com Pill Identifier can help you match the imprint, size, shape, or color and lead you to the detailed description in a drug database derived from Micromedex, Cerner Multum, Wolters Kluwer, and others.
- FDA Center for Drug Evaluation & Research (CDER) Division of Drug Information (DDI) staff can identify drugs for you based on physical appearance (color, shape, size, etc.) and markings. E-mail DDI your drug description.
- Poison Control Center staff provides confidential, free pill identification 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Centers can also be reached by phone at 1-800-222-1222. In case of an emergency, call 911.
Disposing of Expired and Unused Medications
Drinking water can be contaminated by improper medication disposal. Traces of steroids, antibiotics, anti-depressants and hormones have been found in municipal water sources across the country. There are safe methods for disposing of unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs. The FDA has great information on how to properly dispose of medications at home. Here are a few guidelines:
- Take unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers.
- Mix prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in impermeable, non-descript containers, such as empty cans or sealable bags.
- Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs doing so. The FDA has guidance on drugs that can be flushed.
Participate in the National Take Back Initiative occurring several times each year (usually in April and October). This program, sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), provides local venues for disposing of unwanted and unused prescription drugs. The October 2020 national event collected nearly a million pounds of prescription medications.
Year-round drop off sites for the public to dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals can be found here. You can search by zip code or city.
Dana Abbey, MLS, AHIP, is the Colorado/Community Engagement Coordinator for the Network of the National Library of Medicine, MidContinental Region (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)