This Issue

Medication Safety: The dos and don’ts of prescription drugs

Easy access belies over-the-counter drugs’ health risks

Medicine: A lifeline — when used correctly

Flu facts & tips

Q & A

A closer look

Ask questions. You’re the one who suffers the consequences if you don’t.

  1. What is the name (brand and generic) of the medicine?
    What is it for?

  2. What’s the dose?

  3. How do I take it and how often?

  4. What food, drinks or other medicines should I avoid
    while taking this medicine?

  5. What are the possible side effects?
    What should I do if I have side effects?

  6. What should I do if I miss a dose or accidentally
    take more than the recommended dose?

  7. When will the medicine start working?

  8. Is there any written information I can take home with me?

Ask questions. You’re the one who suffers the consequences if you don’t

Take all of this …
Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial infections, such as pneumonia and strep throat, but are not effective against viruses, like the common cold or the flu. It is important to finish your medicine even if you feel better. If an antibiotic is stopped prematurely, the bacteria may not be completely killed, which can increase their resistance to the antibiotic. This can result in a re-infection of now resistant bacteria.
… but not too much of this
Acetaminophen is a common and effective pain reliever and fever reducer. Many people are unaware, however, that acetaminophen is found in many prescription pain relievers as well as numerous over-the-counter products to treat cold and allergy symptoms and menstrual cramps. The maximum daily dose — from all sources — is 4,000 milligrams. Use caution when taking two or more drugs that contain acetaminophen. Excessive use can result in liver damage.

For a detailed list of products that contain acetaminophen, visit

A double take

Take all of this … but not too much of this

Help your doctor help you …
… and keep a headache diary

In order to pinpoint your type of headache, which will help to diagnose and treat it correctly, pay close attention when it surfaces.

Keep track of:

  • the date of each headache
  • the time it started and the time it ended
  • type of pain and intensity on a scale of 1 to 10
  • where the pain is centered
  • foods and beverages you had during the last day
  • amount of sleep and caffeine
  • stress level
  • any sensitivity to light, sound or odors
  • the date of your menstrual cycle if you are female
  • weather conditions
  • type of treatment and its effect
  • your thoughts and actions shortly before the pain began

Discuss any frequent headaches with your doctor, who can recommend appropriate treatment.

Call your doctor immediately if you experience a very severe, sudden, or explosive headache (especially after a head injury or if your headache is accompanied by stiff neck and fever, weakness, or difficulty speaking or seeing, which could signal more serious problems, such as meningitis or stroke).

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A closer look

Before you leave the
drug store, get the facts.

Read the drug label to make sure the prescription is
yours and matches the one written by your provider.

Medicine: A lifeline — when used correctly

Whether you have a chronic health issue like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure or a curable illness like the flu or pneumonia, medicine prescribed by your doctor can be a lifeline. When taken properly, medications can help you live a longer, healthier life. The tips below will help you gain the greatest benefit from the medicines you need, while helping to stretch your health care dollars.

Taking medications safely

A national health survey shows that the use of prescription drugs continues to spiral upward. During the past month, 42 percent of African American adults were taking at least one prescription drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And nearly 40 percent of all Americans over age 60 reported taking five or more medications.

When used properly, these medications can enhance and extend life. To take your medicine safely, follow these tips:

Tell all. Avoid worrisome drug interactions and side effects by telling your doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines (over-the-counter and prescription), vitamins or other supplements and herbal remedies you use. Also mention allergies and past problems with medications like rashes or dizziness. Using one drug store is also beneficial, because the pharmacist can track the prescription medications you take.

Go over the basics. Anytime medicine is prescribed, write down the drug name, why you need it, the amount to take, and when to take it and stop. Find out if you need to take the medicine with food and any other important instructions. Remember to save the drug information sheets that come with your medicine, in case you need to refer to them.

Take as directed. Not more often, not less often, and on time. If you miss a dose, ask your doctor or pharmacist what to do.

Set up reminders. Let a daily habit, meals or bedtime for example, be your reminder to take your medication. Or set an alarm on your cell phone. You can also use a pill box with compartments to help with times of day, or check off daily doses on a simple checklist.

Expiration dates. Always check expiration dates listed on the bottle before taking medication. Taking medicine after it has expired may cause negative side effects. Throw out any drugs that have expired to prevent medication mix-ups.

Keep a little list. Tuck a list of medications into your wallet or purse to show to all health care providers (and pharmacists, too, if you use more than one drug store). Keep a copy of the list in your home too, on the refrigerator, so others can access it. In emergencies, this list helps ensure faster, more effective care. Include drug name, doctor, reason for taking, and dosing information. If medications change, make a new list and throw out the old one.

Generic drugs versus brand name drugs

Patents on new drugs can last for up to 20 years to allow manufacturers to recoup their investment in researching, developing and marketing medications. Once patents expire, other pharmaceutical companies are permitted to copy brand name drugs by creating chemical counterparts called generic medications. These are often quite inexpensive, can be just as effective and help save you money.

Just like brand name drugs, generic drugs must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This approval ensures that generics are equally safe and effective and have the same active ingredients, strength and form (whether they’re pills or liquid, for example) as brand name drugs.

You can stretch your health care dollars by:

• Asking your doctor or pharmacist about generic options.

• Checking whether your health plan or local pharmacies offer generic drugs at low cost.

• Buying a 90-day supply of drugs you take regularly through a mail order pharmacy can also help save money. Check with your health plan to see if this option is available to you.

Taking your medication properly is a vital part of managing your own health. By being a more informed patient you can keep yourself healthy and help bring down your health care costs. Remember to always use antibiotics and medication as directed by a pharmacist, physician, nurse, or according to the bottle. Some medications may be counteracted with the use of alcohol, drugs or other medications like antibiotics, so read the drug label before use. And, work with your doctor to manage your prescriptions, or if you have any questions about your health.