Mindful About Medication

An increasing number of Americans use prescription medications. In fact, from 1994-2005, the number of prescriptions purchased in the U.S. increased by a whopping 71 percent, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. This is especially astonishing considering that the U.S. population only grew 9 percent during that same time period.

Adults age 65 and older make up the largest group of prescription drug users, with approximately 75 percent of this population taking at least one prescription medication.

Don't Forget Botanical Medicines

Along with prescription drugs, many Americans use botanical medicines. Between 1990 and 1997, the use of botanical medicines increased by 380 percent in the United States. In 2001, the global retail sale of botanical dietary supplements amounted to more than $18 billion, according to Nutrition Business Journal. Outside the U.S., the World Health Organization reports that 75 to 85 percent of the world's population relies on botanical medicines for their primary healthcare.

How Can I Manage My Medicines Safely?

While our medicines help us, they can also pose risks if not used carefully. Although Medication Safety Week (April 1-7) has come and gone, it is always important to take note of medication safety. Take a moment to learn how to safely manage your (or a loved one's) medications—no matter if they are prescription drugs, botanical medicines, or vitamins.

Track What You are Taking and Know Why

It's your right and responsibility to be informed about your healthcare. This includes being informed about the medications and supplements you take, as well as talking openly with your healthcare providers about them.

  • Keep a medication list, like this one. It helps you keep track of all the medications and supplements you take.
  • Bring your medication list to your medical appointments and talk about them with your provider. Use this medication question list to help jump-start your conversation.
  • When starting a new medicine, make sure you know:
    • The name of the medicine
    • What it's used for
    • How to take it
    • About any potential side-effects and what to do if adverse reactions occur
  • Make sure you tell your provider about any botanical medicines, vitamins, other supplements you are taking. This is important because your provider knows your health particulars and the drugs you are taking. He or she can help you avoid possible adverse reactions or interactions between drugs and supplements.

Make Sure You Get the Right Prescription

When staying in a hospital or when picking up a prescription, make sure to double-check that the medication being dispensed is for you, and not someone else. It's okay to ask a pharmacist, doctor, or other healthcare provider to verify that it is for you.

In fact, in hospitals healthcare providers are expected to double-check the patient's name and birth date before administering any medications.

Keep Your Medications Organized and Safe

  • Consider buying a pill box to keep your medications and/or vitamins organized.
  • Make sure your medications are out of reach of young children and pets.
  • If you are taking pain medications, be especially careful to put these in a secure place where others can't get them.
  • If you have unused medications that you want to dispose of, see if there is a program in your community where you can drop them off. More and more communities are doing this to prevent the buildup of medications in our lakes and streams.

The most important thing to remember is to take charge of your own health and don't be afraid to talk to your healthcare providers. They are there to help!


Women's Heart Foundation - medication safety information

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Dietary Supplement Overview

Helpguide - dietary supplement information