FDA Consumer

Educate Before You Medicate: Your Lifeline For Medicine Use

Educate Before You Medicate: Your Lifeline For Medicine Use – Brief Article

Ray Bullman

Any medicine, whether prescription or nonprescription, can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Yet the healing power of modern medicines leads physicians to write a prescription in over two-thirds of all U.S. doctor visits–more than any other type of intervention.

Undoubtedly, you are among the large majority of medicine-users who take medicines correctly. Or are you?

* Have you ever forgotten to take a dose, so you took a double-dose at the next scheduled time? Or earlier?

* Have you stopped taking a medicine before your prescription ran out because you started feeling better, although you’d been counseled to finish the entire bottle?

* Have you mixed medications and alcohol without a clear understanding of whether it is safe to do so?

* Have you started taking a new prescription, nonprescription medicine, or dietary supplement without reading all the accompanying information about safe and proper use?

If you answered “yes” to any of these situations, then you are in the majority of all medicine-users. But answering “yes” in these cases does not mean you have crossed the line into prescription drug abuse. Rather, it proves just how common misuse is, and how difficult it can be to use medicines appropriately.

For nearly 20 years, the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) in Bethesda, Md., has worked to improve communication between consumers and their health-care professionals to promote safe and appropriate medication use. In the mid-1980s, recognizing the enormous health and economic consequences of medication misuse, NCPIE dubbed this pervasive public health issue “America’s Other Drug Problem.”

Here are three steps you can take to help ensure safe medicine use:

Step 1: Take part in your treatment decisions.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk about your concerns. This means telling your health-care provider about any illnesses or problems for which another health professional is treating you; discussing the risks and benefits of each medicine or treatment you might get; telling your doctor about any medicine allergies; and revealing if you’ve experienced medication or alcohol dependence or abuse in the past.

Step 2: Follow your treatment plan.

This includes contacting the doctor with any concerns you have about your medicine, especially during the first few days as the body is adapting to the medication. Don’t let embarrassment keep you from telling your doctor important information.

Step 3: Watch for problems and get help in solving them.

Keep working with your health professionals while you are taking your medicine. This means don’t change doses or abruptly stop a prescription without consulting a health-care provider first. Ask about results of medical tests that indicate if the medicine working and if medicine is still needed. Tell your health-care provider about any side effects or any new problems that may be related to the medicine.

To put it simply, NCPIE suggests you Educate Before You Medicate.

Anytime a medicine is prescribed, be sure to ask your health-care provider or pharmacist:

1. What is the name of the medicine and what is it for? Is this the brand name or the generic name?

2. Is a generic version of this medicine available?

3. How and when do I take it–and for how long?

4. What foods, drinks, other medicines, dietary supplements, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?

5. When should I expect the medicine to begin to work, and how will I know if it is working? Are there any tests required with this medicine (for example, liver or kidney function)?

6. Are there any side effects, what are they, and what do I do if they occur?

7. Will this medicine work safely with the other prescription and nonprescription medicines I am taking (including dietary or herbal supplements)?

8. Can I get a refill? When?

9. How should I store this medicine?

10. Is there any written information available about the medicine? (Is it available in large print or a language other than English?)

And remember, tell your health-care professionals:

* All of your medical conditions and the names of doctors providing treatment;

* The names of all medicines you are taking, including prescription and nonprescription medicines, dietary or herbal supplements, vitamins or minerals, laxatives, pain relievers and sleeping aids;

* any problems you are having with your medicines; and

* the medicines to which you are allergic.

Ray Bullman is executive vice president of the National Council on Patient Information and Education, Bethesda, Md. (

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