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Dangers of Misusing Prescription Medications

Dec 19, 2017

What's lurking in your medicine cabinet? Sneak a peek in a typical American medicine cabinet, and you will likely find a variety of ointments, creams, cosmetics, bandages, shaving stuff, and old prescription bottles. What's wrong with this picture (besides, the mess, of course)? If you have unused prescription medications in your cabinet, you probably didn't follow doctor's orders when treating an illness.

The medication prescribed, the preferred method used for taking it, and the prescription duration are conscious decisions made by your healthcare provider for the ideal treatment plan. When you ignore those instructions, you are compromising your recovery. Here are five important things to know about taking prescription medications.

Remember that duration matters.

Finishing a course of medication is especially important when taking antibiotics. But, if you are like the typical patient, once we start to feel better we stop taking our medications. In fact, this practice can make an illness worse. "Misuse and overuse of these drugs have contributed to a phenomenon known as antibiotic resistance," says the Food & Drug Administration."This resistance develops when potentially harmful bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics." So, enjoy the fact that you are feeling better, but also be sure to finish taking your prescription.

The only types prescriptions you don't need to finish all of are those involving opioids. ONce you are no longer in need of them for pain it is best to discontinue them and dispose of them properly.

Beware of mixing drugs with things that create side effects.

Some foods and juices reduce the effectiveness of medications. For instance, the American Heart Association warns patients that grapefruit and pomegranate juice interfere with cholesterol medications. Also, spinach, kale, and other leafy green vegetables contain high levels of vitamin K that create a health risk for patients taking blood thinner medications.

Karen M. Gunning, PharmD, BCPS, BCACP, FCCP clinical professor and clinical pharmacist at the University of Utah Family Medicine Residency/Sugarhouse Clinic, cautions patients about overdosing on similar medications. "When people take two things that both contain the same medication—taking a prescription pain medication and an OTC pain medication—most of the time people might not even realize that the medication you're taking has more pain reliever than they need to take" she said. It's important to tell your healthcare provider about all of the medications, vitamins and supplements you are currently taking.

If the doctor says to take with food or take on a full or empty stomach, do it.

The FDA says that some medicines can work faster, slower, better, or worse when you take them on a full or empty stomach, but some medicines often cause nausea. Food in your stomach can help reduce that discomfort. "If you don't see directions on your medicine labels, ask your doctor or pharmacist if it is best to take your medicines on an empty stomach," said Gunning.

Don't share old, unused prescriptions.

First, it's against the law to share pain medications. But our households also carry plenty of hazards that should deter users from misusing unused meds. "Children (or grandchildren) in the home may find the pain medication," said Gunning. "Toxicity is higher for children, so any time there are unsecured medications in the house, there is a danger to children."

Gunning adds that unused prescriptions create a dangerous temptation for teenagers who may want to experiment. "Any time there are unsecured pain medications, there's a risk of theft," she said. Patients are asked to keep medications in a locked box.

Dispose of medications properly.

A good rule of thumb is to sort through medications every six months to make sure that everything is to date and is actually needed. Get rid of anything that's expired or that you aren't currently using. Don't throw away medications in the toilet or the garbage. Instead, the easiest way is to deposit it in a medication disposal box at a pharmacy or police station. For example, this receptacle (that looks much like a library box) is stationed at University of Utah healthcare pharmacies, police stations, and other pharmacies. Please visit for information on medication disposal.

We want to protect those we love from illness. An important way to ensure good health is to follow doctor's orders when it comes to taking and handling prescription medications. Let's make 2018 a happy and healthy new year.