Medications: 4 Rules for Safety

Posted August 10, 2017

Medication errors are all too common. Prescription drug use is widespread and increasingly risky for those taking multiple medicines. In addition, fake online pharmacies are illegally selling prescription drugs that often contain the wrong substances or harmful dosages.

While drugs are lifesaving for hundreds of conditions, misuse of medicine in the U.S. has led to nearly 700,000 emergency visits and 100,000 hospitalizations per year.

To lower your risk of getting sick from your medicine, keep a close watch on what you’re taking.

1. Know what each drug does. When your health care provider prescribes a new medicine, ask what it does and how it will help you. Learn how to use it and what to expect. Read and save the information for every prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicine you use.

Ask your provider or pharmacist about side effects. Many medicines and dietary supplements produce some degree of side effects, which your provider and pharmacist should explain. Call your provider promptly if you have a serious reaction.

To avoid possible interactions with multiple drugs, regularly review all of your medications and supplements with your provider. Discuss any alcohol or tobacco use. They may affect your medicines.

2. Manage your medicines to avoid mistakes. Keep a formal, updated medications record. Include prescription and OTC medicines and any supplements or herbs you use. Review this record each time you meet with each of your providers or go to the hospital. Be sure what you get at the pharmacy matches what your provider ordered.

Medicine Checklist:

• Know the names of your drugs.
• Know what your drugs treat.
• Read labels and follow directions.
• Report any difficult side effects.
• Keep all providers informed.
• Use 1 pharmacy.

3. Beware of phony online pharmacies. The FDA estimates that there are 40,000 to 60,000 domain names that could be tied to illegal online pharmacies at any given time. To lend credibility to their business, some of these sites quote fake affiliations with well-known U.S. drug chains.

Before you buy discount medicines and health care products online, review each pharmacy carefully and avoid those with:

• Ads that say, “No prescriptions required.”
• Ads for drugs that are not approved by the FDA.
• Ads selling drugs at rates much lower than those at your local pharmacy.
• Sites that only have foreign contact information.
• Sites that don’t have a phone number or street address.
• Unsealed or altered packaging.
• No delivery at all, and unauthorized charges to your credit card.

4. Shop smart if you buy medicine online. Buy only from (a) licensed pharmacies in the U.S. that (b) require your provider’s prescription and (c) have a pharmacist available for questions. To locate safe and legal online pharmacies, go to and search for FDA BeSafeRx.

To stay current on general health product scams, visit FDA 101: Health Fraud Awareness.

FDA’s Tip-offs to Rip-offs

Steer clear of health care products with these claims:

• “Quick fix.”
• “All-natural, miracle cure.”
• “One product does it all.”
• “New discovery.”
• “Scientific breakthrough.”
• “Secret ingredient.”
• “No more herpes.”
• “Shrinks tumors.”
• “Lowers blood sugar.”
• “Lose weight without diet or exercise.”

If it sounds too good to be true, don’t buy it.

— Diane McReynolds, Founder, Personal Best Healthlines