Older adults often use more medications as they age. It is important to read labels and warnings, and not mix up medications. It’s also important for caregivers to learn about medication safety to prevent unintentional poisonings.

Education is a key element in keeping your loved ones safe. Here are some tips to prevent poisonings and maintain proper medication safety in your home.

Prescription drugs

  • Make sure all medications are clearly labeled. Follow the label’s instructions, including dosage. Some medicines are to be taken at different times, so be sure to review instructions every time the medication is taken.
  • Look for capsules or tablets that differ from others in the container.
  • Review all medicines (including food supplements such as vitamins, minerals, or herbs) with a doctor or pharmacist at least once a year or when taking a new drug.
  • Never take larger or more frequent doses of your medications, particularly prescription pain medications, to try to get faster or more powerful effects.
  • Never take medicine in the dark. Turn on a light to ensure it is the right medicine and right dose described on the label. If you need glasses to read, wear them when taking or giving medicine.
  • Never take other people’s prescription drugs. Only take prescription medications that are prescribed to you by a healthcare professional.
  • Never share or sell your prescription drugs. Keep all prescription medicines in a safe place that can only be reached by people who take or give them.

Over-the-counter drugs

  • Know what types of over-the-counter drugs to avoid taking with your prescription drugs. When in doubt, ask your pharmacist or doctor before using an over-the-counter drug.
  • Common over-the-counter drugs that can cause problems when taken with other drugs include pain medicine, laxatives, cold medicines, and antacids.
  • Compare the active ingredients in medicines before taking two over-the-counter drugs together. Many drugs contain the same active ingredient. You can easily take more than is safe without knowing it.
  • Get rid of medicines that have expired or are no longer needed. Ask your local pharmacist how you can return unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs to pharmaceutical take-back locations or you local poison center for safe disposal.

Understanding labels

To prevent problems, start by reading the labels of all prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Reading the label will tell you:

  • What the medicine is for (indications)
  • How to take the medicine (directions)
  • What is in the medicine (contents, or active and inactive ingredients)
  • What the unusual effects are (warnings)
  • What activities you should not do while taking the drug (precautions)

Always have the toll-free Poison Help line (1-800-222-1222) available to call in case of an emergency, which connects you to your local poison center.