Whether it's a drug prescribed by a doctor or just a bottle of ]]>acetaminophen]]>, medications require some special care.

The United States Food and Drug Administration and the American Pharmaceutical Association provide some tips for safely using and storing medications. And remember, these rules apply to nonprescription drugs, such as ibuprofen and cold medicine, as well as prescription drugs. Even vitamins (especially those containing iron) can be very dangerous if inadvertently taken in excess—most commonly by young children.

Know Your Medications

If a medication is in your house, know what it is for. Whether the doctor prescribed it or it's just an over-the-counter drug, if you don't know what it's for, find out. Read the label and if you don't understand anything you read, take the bottle to the pharmacy and ask the pharmacist.

Here's what you need to know about any drug you take:

  • The name
  • What it is for
  • When to take it
  • How much to take
  • When to stop taking it
  • Any special instructions for taking it (for example, with food, without food, before bed only, etc.)
  • What the potential side effects are
  • What food, drink, or other medications it interacts with

Store Medications in a Dark, Cool, Dry Place

Medications can degrade if they get too hot, too moist, or too cold. When a medication degrades it may become less effective, totally ineffective, or possibly even dangerous to take.

Note: The bathroom cabinet is not a cool, dry place.

The bathroom may be a convenient place to keep medications, but it is probably the most moist room in the house, so don't keep your medications there. Try putting them in a kitchen cabinet. And don't leave them in your car where they will be exposed to extreme temperatures.

Keep Medications in Their Original Containers

This is the only way to ensure that you know what medication is in the container. Plus, if you have side effects or a bad reaction to a medication, the medical personnel who try to help you need to know what you have taken.

Throw Away Expired Medications

Check expiration dates and throw away expired medication by flushing it down the toilet. Pour the medicine down the toilet and wash out the container and throw it away in the trash. Do not use any medications after they expire. All medications expire, even aspirin and cold medicine. When a medication expires it may become less effective or totally ineffective, or it may even degrade to a point where it is dangerous to take.

Never Take Someone Else's Medicine

If a medication is not prescribed for you, don't take it. You don't know how the drug will affect you, and you don't know how it will interact with other drugs you take or food and drink you consume.

Take Your Medicine as Directed—All of It!

Sometimes when symptoms clear up and you're feeling better, you're tempted to stop taking a medication. If your doctor prescribes a medication, take all of it as directed. Many medications, such as antibiotics, do much more than relieve symptoms. They are working inside your body, whether you are aware of it or not. Stopping medications early can cause your illness to relapse, or even worse, it can lead to more virulent infections.

Report Medication Problems to Your Healthcare Provider

If a medication is causing unpleasant side effects or is not working for you, tell your doctor. There may be other medications you could take or medications that can control the side effects. Don't suffer through unpleasant side effects, but don't stop taking the medication either. Talk to your doctor.