Drugs: What You Should Know About Your Drugs

  • Pharmacy Author:
    Omudhome Ogbru, PharmD

    Dr. Ogbru received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 1995. He completed a Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Arizona/University Medical Center in 1996. He was a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and a Regional Clerkship Coordinator for the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy from 1996-99.

  • Medical and Pharmacy Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical and Pharmacy Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Introduction

Whether synthetic or natural (herbal), drugs are intended to act on the body. There always is a chance that they will produce effects that we do not want. Also, if two or more drugs are taken at the same time, there is a chance that one drug will interact with another drug in either a positive or negative way. This does not imply that the drugs are bad, but rather that they should be used carefully in order to reap the greatest benefit while minimizing unwanted side effects. Indeed, when used properly, most drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration do more good than harm. Below are ten questions that apply to most drugs and are worth discussing with your healthcare provider. Most of these issues are addressed by the information that is provided with the drug.

What is the drug used for?

Drugs often have more than one use. Understanding why a drug is prescribed improves your knowledge about the drug and the condition for which it is prescribed. This promotes compliance with treatment. It is a good idea to write down why each drug was prescribed to share this information with other health-care professionals or caregivers.

Quick GuidePrescription Drug Abuse: Know The Warning Signs

Prescription Drug Abuse: Know The Warning Signs

How does the drug work?

Knowing how the drug works provides the rationale for its use in the treatment of a particular disease. This also promotes adherence to treatment.

How should the drug be taken?

The optimal dose and timing of ingestion of a drug is determined by scientific studies. Drugs provide their greatest benefit when they are taken as prescribed. Deviating from the prescribed dose often leads to failure of the therapy or to side effects. However, in some circumstances (for example, when severe side effects occur), changes in dose may be appropriate, but they should be discussed with a health-care professional as soon as possible.

What should you do if you miss a dose?

Despite the best of efforts, eventually everyone misses one or more doses of a medication. The remedy for this situation depends on the drug. For some drugs, simply taking the missed dose as soon as possible is appropriate. For other drugs, it is more appropriate to wait and double the next scheduled dose. (However, this can be dangerous with some drugs.) Since the recommendations differ for each drug, knowing the correct remedy can prevent therapy from failing and side effects from occurring.

What are the drug's side effects?

Since drugs provide a benefit by modifying processes in the body, it is not surprising that they also have side effects. Successful drug therapy produces the desired beneficial effect without unbearable side effects. Therefore, it is important to know what a drug's side effects are so that they can be recognized, prevented, and acted upon appropriately when they occur.

What substances interact with the drug?

Interactions with drugs are common and they can cause side effects or reduce the beneficial effect of the drug. Sometimes, the interaction may promote a beneficial effect. Knowing which interacting agents to avoid while taking a drug (for example, food and herbal drugs) will prevent failure of therapy and side effects. It is a good idea to let your pharmacist and all health-care professionals know the drugs you are taking so potential drug interactions can be avoided. Also ask about alternative treatments and how effective they are.

What should you expect the drug to do?

Some drugs cure the condition for which they are prescribed while other drugs provide only relief from symptoms. Some drugs provide an immediate benefit while other drugs require more time to be effective. To determine whether the drug is working as intended, it is important to know the expected result and how long it will take to see that result.

How should the drug be stored?

Most medications are stored at room temperature. However, some medications require special storage conditions in order to avoid premature deterioration of the drug. Look at the expiration dates written on the container and use the drug before the expiration date.

How should unused drugs be disposed of?

To safe guard the health of children, pets, and the environment; and to reduce drug abuse; drugs should be disposed of responsibly.

The FDA recommends the following for safe disposal of unused or expired medications:

  • Follow specific recommendations for disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information packet provided with the medication.
  • Do not flush drugs down the sink or toilet unless the packet information on the drug specifically instructs to do so.
  • Check to see if your community has a drug take-back program that allows the public to bring unused drugs to a specific location for disposal.
  • If you do not have access to a disposal program in your area to dispose of unused drugs it is recommended you throw the drugs in the garbage after taking the following steps:
    • Remove the drugs from their original container and mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter (this makes the drugs less appealing to pets, children, and people who intentionally dig through trash seeking drugs).
    • Place the mixture in a sealable container, can, or bag to prevent leakage.

Additional tips include:

  • Remove all identifying information on the prescription labels so they are unreadable. This helps protect your identify and personal health information.
  • Do not give prescription medications to friends or family members. A medication that is effective for you, may be dangerous for someone else.
  • Ask your health-care professional or pharmacist if you have any questions about proper disposal of unused or expired medicaitons.
  • Disposal of prescription drug disposal methods can be applied to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.
  • Inquire about any special instructions for disposing the unused or expired medications you have taken.

Quick GuidePrescription Drug Abuse: Know The Warning Signs

Prescription Drug Abuse: Know The Warning Signs

Should you use a generic version of the drug?

Generic drugs work like the brand name drugs, but they are cheaper. Purchasing a generic instead of the brand name drug can often reduce the cost of therapy while providing the same benefit.

What laboratory tests should be done to monitor the effects of the drug?

Some drugs are monitored with laboratory tests. Adjustments of a medication's dose may be based on the results of the tests. For safe and effective use of these drugs, the laboratory tests should be performed at the recommended intervals.

Who is the drug manufacturer?

Drug manufacturers often have education materials, programs, and other resources that may help you understand your health condition and its management. They may also have prescription assistance programs.

REFERENCES:

Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Disposal Fact Sheets.

FDA. How to Dispose of Unused Medicines.

Quick GuidePrescription Drug Abuse: Know The Warning Signs

Prescription Drug Abuse: Know The Warning Signs

Summary

Important information about your drugs should be reviewed prior to taking any prescription drug. Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precauctions, dosage, what the drug is used for, what to do if you miss a dose, how the drug is to be stored, and generic vs. brand names.

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Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Reviewed on 11/10/2014
References
REFERENCES:

Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Disposal Fact Sheets.

FDA. How to Dispose of Unused Medicines.

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