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How To Use A Prescription Drug Safely

by on November 9, 2011 >> 21 Comments
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My seventy plus year old grandaunt was on vacation in New Jersey from Florida when she went to a pharmacist to refill a prescription for Synthroid – a thyroid medication. The label on her prescription specified that she was to take one tablet of Synthroid per day, but it did not indicate the strength of the dose. As a result, the pharmacist would not refill the prescription at first. However, my grandaunt insisted she was taking the “pink pill” and the pharmacist gave in and give her a one-month supply of the drug.

Within less than a month, my grandaunt was in the hospital. She was suffering from weight loss, loss of appetite, tremors, and rapid heartbeat. The tablet she was supposed to be taking was actually orange in color; the “pink pills” the pharmacist gave her were ten times the dosage her doctor had prescribed. My grandaunt’s response was simply, “I guess I am just not good with colors.”

This is an example of how a prescription drug may be misused. To avoid such consequences, you should know as much as possible about any prescription drug you are taking.

Basic Facts You Should Know

1. The name(s) of the drug. Many drugs go by several names. Librium, for instance is also known by the brand name Lasix and by its generic name, furosemide.

2. The reason you are taking the drug. This is especially important with a “silent” disease such as high blood pressure, which people often do not realize they have. At first, the medication for this problem may make patients feel worse, and unless they know why they are taking the drug, they may stop using it.

3. How you should take the drug. Drugs can come in the form of pills, liquids, or other forms. They can be swallowed, injected, inhaled, or taken via some other route of administration. Should you take the drug before or after meals? If you are to take it orally, should you take it with or without water or other liquids? Many drugs need to be taken with water to dissolve them or dilute their strength. Aspirin should always be taken with milk to avoid stomach upset. On the other hand, some drugs such as tetracycline – a commonly prescribed antibiotic, should not be taken with milk or milk products.

4. The strength of the dose the physician has prescribed. My grandaunt’s near death experience highlights the importance of this information. Overdosing with a prescription drug can lead to serious side effects; underdosing may lead to the continuation of whatever ailment you are being treated for.

5. The frequency of administration that the physician recommends. If you take the correct dosage – but take it too often or not often enough – you may suffer an unpleasant reaction or a prolongation of your disease. Be sure the directions are clear. Instructions to “take four times per day” for instance, do not tell you whether you should take the drug every six hours around the clock, or at evenly spaced intervals over the time you are awake.

6. The length of time you should continue to take the drug. Generally, you should keep taking it until your supply is used up. Your doctor will then tell you whether or not to get the prescription refilled. It is a huge mistake to stop taking your medication as soon as you start feeling better. This is often true of antibiotics; if you stop taking them too soon, the infection is likely to recur. On the other hand, if you are concerned that the drug may be affecting you negatively, speak with your physician about possibly changing your medication instead of stopping the medication without your doctor’s knowledge.

7. Does taking the drug require any change in your diet or activities? A number of drugs are dangerous if you drink alcohol while taking them. Certain other drugs may also cause drowsiness or interfere with your coordination. If you are taking any such drugs you should avoid driving, working with dangerous machinery, or other hazardous activities.

8. What if you accidentally miss a dose? With some drugs that have a cumulative effect, missing a dose may lower the level of the drug in your body to the point where it does little good – yet it might be dangerous to double up the next dose.

9. What side effects can you expect? All drugs can cause side effects, ranging from trivial to serious. You should know whether to expect serious adverse effects, and how these effects can be treated.

To make sure that you know these essentials, you should review them with your doctor when he or she gives you the prescription. You should also be sure the pharmacist includes the relevant information on the label he or she prepares for you.

The Prescription Form:

A prescription is an authorization that a physician prepares so that a patient may purchase a certain drug from a licensed pharmacist. To be legal, a prescription must be written on a special prescription form in ink or indelible pencil. The following diagram is a depiction of what a typical prescription form contains:

Example of a prescription

1. The heading. This consists of: the doctor’s name, office address, telephone number, license (DEA) number; and your name, address, and the date the prescription was written. The doctor should include your full name so that other members of your family will be less likely to use your drug by accident.

2. The superscription. This is the well-known Rx symbol which stands for “recipe” or “Take thou” in Latin. It is an abbreviated form of a prayer that the ancient Romans offered to bless the remedy.

3. The inscription. This is the name of the drug. The doctor will list the drug by either its brand name or its generic name. You may ask your doctor to prescribe your drug in its generic name, as it may cost less than a specific brand. However, be mindful that there are cases in which the doctor will have a good reason for prescribing a specific brand.

4. The subscription. This contains the information that the pharmacist needs to prepare the prescription such as: what ingredients, how much to include, and whether the prescription can be refilled. The subscription is usually written in the form of Latin abbreviations. Some of this information may be translated into English when the pharmacist types up your prescription label. Some common Latin abbreviations and their translations are:

Medical Abbreviations

5. The signature. This is the part of the prescription that the pharmacist will type on the label that will be attached to your medication. Be sure that these instructions are clear and complete. For example, if the pharmacist has typed “Take as directed”, give it back and ask to have the doctor’s complete instructions typed in. It is extremely important to have all the instructions for taking the drug in writing so you can refer to them. Pay attention to any special instructions that may appear on the label; the particular medication may incongruous with certain food items.

6. The doctor’s signature If your doctor has not signed your prescription, it is not legal.

It is illegal to obtain a prescription drug without a valid prescription from a doctor. It is also illegal – and potentially dangerous, to share a prescription with another person unless the prescription specifically applies to more than one person.

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21 Responses to How To Use A Prescription Drug Safely

  1. Joel on November 9, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Wow, almost lost your grandaunt, I guess it could be so much worse though. Wrong, prescription and dosage is a very common occurence these days. Everything is so fast paced, doctor’s, pharmacist, and patient alike are making deadly mistakes. It is everyone’s responsibility to make the correct call, but since it is the patient’s life at stake, he or she had better check and recheck before filling and also taking prescription drugs.

    Very thorough post, I liked reading it.

    • Marie on November 9, 2011 at 1:31 am

      It could absolutely be worse Joel, and I am truly grateful it was not. We really do need to be more attentive, despite our fast paced lifestyle.

      Thanks for contributing!
      Marie recently posted..How To Use A Prescription Drug SafelyMy Profile

  2. Brittany on November 9, 2011 at 1:18 am

    I know exactly what you are talking about. My sister was not lucky enough to survive her wrong prescription dosage. Her heart failed her as a result of the pharmacist’s incorrect dosage and by the time paramedics got to her she was gone.

    We suid for the maximum, and although we won, no amount of money could ever bring her back. Very sad to experience. I wish that people will start paying more attention to what they are doing, especially when it could impact someone’s life so drastically.

    • Marie on November 9, 2011 at 1:38 am

      So sorry you had to experience losing your sister because of someone’s shortcoming Brittany.

      We are humans and are prone to make mistakes, but I do believe that extreme measures to avoid mistakes can be taken; such as checking, rechecking, and checking again if needs be. When handling anything as delicate as a prescription, every effort should be made by all parties, to get it done right.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Marie recently posted..How To Use A Prescription Drug SafelyMy Profile

  3. John on November 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    This information is imperative, Marie. Thanks for putting it out here. Happy your grandaunt did not get seriously injured from taking the wrong drug. It is situation like this that makes one sit and evaluate things. Keep writing and sharing, you are doing a great job.

    • Marie on November 10, 2011 at 12:17 am

      Thanks John, I am happy too! I enjoy writing and sharing what I know in the hope that someone, somewhere, will be helped by it.

      Thanks for your input.
      Marie recently posted..How To Use A Prescription Drug SafelyMy Profile

  4. Janice on November 9, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Words cannot express how seriously essential it is to pay keen attention when tending to important matters. Like the doctor some time ago, who was to surgically remove a man’s sick left foot, and ended up removing his right foot instead. This is something that clearly could have been avoided, had someone taken the time to check, recheck, and even check again if they needed to – just like you said Marie. Thanks for all the useful information you always share with us.

    • Marie on November 10, 2011 at 12:25 am

      Indeed Janice! If we make that extra effort to be careful and sure, especially when dealing with life altering procedures and methods, many of the people who suffer and also die would not have to. It is possible to avoid all costly mistakes, such as that one you have described.

      Thanks for contributing!
      Marie recently posted..How To Use A Prescription Drug SafelyMy Profile

  5. Marie-Claire on November 9, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Someone will definitely find this info. useful! It is well thought out, well written, and fully explains everything there is to know about prescription drugs.

    The key is to be attentive,vigilant, and sure.

  6. Madison on November 9, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    I just had to chime in and say that accidents are prone to happen, but we can undoubtedly limit the amount of deadly accidents that happen.

    That doctor you mentioned Janice, and staff, were extremely negligent. The paperwork went through a number of hands before even getting to the doctor, and noone was able to pick up on the mistake because they were not vigilant. The seriousness of the situation was not taken into full consideration.

    Prescribing, and/or filling the incorrect drug or dosage is a very common occurence, and one that can be totally avoided if each party do his/her part.

    This is a VIP post! Thanks for writing and sharing it.

    • Janice on November 10, 2011 at 12:49 am

      They were absolutely negligent Madison, and it is very, very sad that that man had to lose both legs because of their incompetence.

    • Marie on November 10, 2011 at 12:54 am

      If we would only play our part, the best way we can, many hurt, pain, and death could be avoided. If someone had taken the time just to look over and make sure, right before the surgery, that man would still have one foot.

      Oh the consequences of not being careful.
      Marie recently posted..How To Use A Prescription Drug SafelyMy Profile

  7. Katherine on November 13, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    That is a very, very sad tale for that man, Janice. Even though it is not a very common occurrence, it is heartrending for those who experience such misfortune, and their family too.

    It certainly would only help if we all try to be more careful especially when handling delicate things.

    Thanks for this detailed instruction on using prescription drugs Marie. I hope many people will benefit from this info.

    • Marie on November 13, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      It really is sad Katherine, and what makes it worse is that it could have been avoided.

      Thanks for your input!

      I certainly hope it will be beneficial to someone.
      Marie recently posted..How To Use A Prescription Drug SafelyMy Profile

  8. Emilia on November 23, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Here, in Europe (some countries at least that I know about) it is a routine that the pharmacists can change your prescribed medicine to a different make if it contains the same drug or at least similar. They do this because they want you to save money – this is what they say. Am I the only one who thinks this is outrageous??? :o
    Emilia recently posted..dental implants abroadMy Profile

    • Marie on November 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm

      They do that in the US and the Caribbean also. If the brand prescribed is not available, they fill with a generic drug which is usually at a cheaper rate and contain the same dosage strength and ‘supposedly’ the same effect. They usually inform you first, so you have a choice whether to take it, or go to a different pharmacy in search of the prescribed drug.

      Outrageous? Maybe, if they can fill it generically without your knowledge and permission. However, there has to be a way you can ask if they have the one prescribed and if not, refuse to have it filled generic.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Marie recently posted..How To Use A Prescription Drug SafelyMy Profile

  9. Marie on December 10, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Pharmacists have to be very cautious because they are dealing with people’s lives. Their training is extensive, and they are required to adhere to the rules that are promulgated.

    Thanks for your info. Anna!
    Marie recently posted..Evaluating Your Medical Care: How to Find a Suitable Physician My Profile

  10. masterdrugstore11 on December 27, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Extremely nice blog! It is quite informative. Prescription drugs are not harmful always. No doubt to avoid side effects customers should take some precautions like proper dosage and guidance of physician, then the drugs are safe for use. Proper intake and guidance is necessary.

    • Marie on January 15, 2012 at 1:06 am

      Customers should absolutely, always take the correct dosage; any deviation from that is direct setup for a tragedy.

      Thank you.
      Marie recently posted..Happy New Year! Welcome 2012!My Profile

  11. Marie on February 8, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Hello Antoinette, thanks for stopping by!

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