Updated: Apr 25, 2022
Pharmacy has come a long way from its origins, and it keeps evolving. New medicines are developed, and new uses are found for older medicines; more people are using meds to treat and even prevent diseases – and insurances have expanded coverage on many prescriptions. That’s all amazing…but it also means that there’s more medications out there, and more medications means more chances for having an adverse drug event (ADE). ¹
According to the CDC, an ADE is when a person is harmed by a medication – this can include: ¹
Taking steps now to store and use medication safely can mean less scares for you and your loved ones down the road.
Why is medication safety so important?
A large majority of American adults take at least one medication, and more than 25 percent take at least five medications. With those large numbers, it’s no surprise that there are a large number of ADEs – and a large cost associated with that. It’s estimated that ADEs are the cause of 1.3 million ER visits and 350,000 hospitalizations each year, translating to $3.5 billion spent on medical costs directly tied to those events. ¹
Certain medications are more likely to be associated with an ADE than others: ²
For those 65 or older, anticoagulants led to almost one third of emergency room visits and more than a third of hospitalizations.
Antibiotics are tied to more than half of emergency room visits by children 5 years or younger.
Insulin-caused ADEs are generally meal-related or product-related mistakes. Nearly 25 percent of emergency visits due to insulin mishaps were tied to the patient using the wrong insulin product.
Opioid pain relievers continue to be a concern in the United States; poisoning deaths from opioids were happening at a higher rate than heroin deaths in 2013.
All these numbers are daunting – even more daunting, many ADEs may have been preventable if the medication was used more safely.
Med Safety and Kids
Kids getting into medicine leads to almost 60,000 emergency room visits each year. In cases with details reported, kids getting into their grandparents’ medication account for almost half of the cases; getting into parents’ medication was nearly 40 percent. When it comes to medication safety and children, especially young children, caution must outweigh convenience. Some things to keep in mind when securing medication include: ³
Medication, including vitamins, should be kept out of reach AND out of sight. Even if the dosing interval is small, still put the meds away between doses. Kids can climb, reach, and get into things quicker than you expect – if they can’t see the medication, there’s less temptation to explore that area and get into things they shouldn’t.
Use child-resistant packaging when possible, and make sure the lid is firmly closed. Kids can be persistent when checking out new things, and child-resistant does NOT mean child-proof.
Many medicines look kind of like candy, meaning kids are going to be tempted to eat it if they find it. Accidents happen, so save the Poison Help number in case of emergency: 1-800-222-1222.
Don’t just think about your medications – pay attention to where your guests put their bags. Many people keep medication in their purses or bags when they travel. If these bags are easily accessible by children, that means the medication is within reach, too.
Even though it may be tempting to compare a good-tasting medicine to candy to get them to take it, don’t make the comparison. Medicine is NOT candy.
As your kids get older, talk to them about medication safety. GenerationRx is a great resource to understand how medications can be misused and why they should be used as directed.
Med Safety and Older Adults ⁴
A person’s chance of having an ADE increases as they age. People are often on more medications and vitamins, meaning there are more changes to have a side effect, reaction, or mix-up. Even without an ADE, medication you’ve been taking for years or even decades could start to interact with your body as it ages; muscle decreases, fat increases, liver and kidney functions change – and all this can mean that your long-time medication doesn’t break down the same way it used to.
The most important step you can take to use your medication safely as you age is to get input from your healthcare team. Talk over any side effects you’re experiencing and note any questions or concerns you have. This also includes when you are wanting to stop taking a medicine. Dosing may need to change over time, or a completely different medication may be needed – but they won’t know to make the change without that conversation happening.
Even though many older adults face similar concerns – chronic pain or high blood pressure, for instance – that does not mean that the medication is interchangeable. Never take another person’s medication to treat your own condition; instead, talk to your doctor and get your own prescription. Your doctor will know what to look for when it comes to allergies and drug interactions to decrease your risk of an ADE.
Beyond talking to your doctor, staying educated on your medication regimen is essential to using your meds safely. This can include:
Checking the label for proper storage and expiration dates.
Knowing about possible interactions and side effects. Some of these interactions are minor, but other can cause serious harm. This isn’t limited to just interactions between meds – some foods, like grapefruit, are known to affect the effectiveness of certain medications and can cause harmful side effects.
Keep track of what you’re taking. Write down the name of the drug or OTC medication as well as why and when you’re taking it. Dosing amount and timing is also important to write down. Give a copy of this to a loved one in case of emergency, and make sure they know the pharmacy’s phone number if they need to reach out about concerns.
Med Safety and Pets ⁵
We want to protect our loved ones – and our loved ones aren’t just human. It’s important to take steps to protect your pets from medication mishaps as well. Some tips to keep your furry family members safe from medication misuse include:
Keep your medications out of reach of your pets – and remember that animals can reach or jump onto counters. Though many of the bottles are child-resistant, the plastic is no match for the sharp teeth of cats and dogs.
Find and pick up dropped medications right away. Pets can easily mistake a dropped pill as a toy or a treat before realizing it doesn’t taste that great.
Don’t store your pet’s medication with your own. Many drugs can be used for pets and humans, but the dosing can vary drastically; others are safe for humans but dangerous for pets. A mix-up in dosing between you and your dog can be harmful at best, fatal at worst.
Have different species of pets? Keep their meds separate, too. Medications for one species can be dangerous for others. For instance, a dog’s flea medication could poison a cat if they were to get that dose.
Be aware of your medications in non-pill form, too. Don’t let your pet lick or eat medication patches or medical creams. This includes licking any of your skin where those have been applied.
If you think your pet has ingested a medication they shouldn’t have, reach out to ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 (a consultation fee may apply).
A lot of the tips for medication safety are common sense, but it’s easy to get complacent when there haven’t been any accidents – but you don’t want to realize that you’ve been unsafe by dealing with a medication accident. Take steps everyday to secure your meds, and remember that our pharmacy team is always here to support you!