Prescription drugs: 8 common drug errors to avoid according to our pharmacists

Femme qui boit un verre d'eau.

Our team of pharmacists is made up of good people who take your health to heart. And they start by giving you some tips on errors you can avoid when you take your medication.

What are drug errors?

A drug error is preventable, but once committed, it can be detrimental to your health and recovery. It can happen from the time you’re given a prescription to the time you take your medication. This chain of events involves your doctor, your team of pharmacists and yourself. That’s why you have a key role to play in preventing drug errors.

1. Keep an updated list

When you start treatment, you should have an up-to-date list of both prescription and over-the-counter medication. And more importantly, your healthcare professionals should have access to your list of medication. By doing your part and bringing them an up-to-date list of your medication, you’ll avoid drug interactions or the risk of overdosing. Drugs don't always mix and match and one substance can alter or interfere with the activity of the other when taken at the same time. This can happen between 2 or more drugs, but also between a drug and another product such as...

  • Food
  • Alcohol
  • Natural health products
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Tobacco

In some cases, drug interactions can interfere with your treatment or increase side effects. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you on how to prevent drug interactions. For example, they may advise you to avoid eating grapefruit with certain medications or to take anti-inflammatory drugs and blood thinners at the same time.

Pharmacienne qui donne des médicaments à un patient

2. What’s it called again?

Let’s face it, you’d need a brilliant memory to be able to remember the names of both brand-name and generic drugs. And some of the drugs are read and pronounced similarly like morphine and hydromorphone. Although both are used to relieve pain, hydromorphone is much more potent than morphine. Pharmacists have implemented different strategies to reduce any risk of confusion between 2 substances.

You, too, can do your part to avoid any medication mix-ups :

  • When you drop off your prescription, ask the healthcare professionals to write down why you were prescribed the medication.
  • If it’s available, ask for a complete drug information sheet that details the directions for use, storage, side effects, etc. Understanding a drug’s use better will help you avoid drug errors.
  • Make sure your name is on the label and follow the medication dosage indicated by your pharmacist. If any information seems off, ask your pharmacist about it right away.

3. Oops! Forgot to take my meds!

This is one of the most common mistakes. It’s estimated that 1 in 2 people forgets to take his or her medication at the scheduled time. Forgetting to take your meds is far from trivial and it can affect your treatment. Here are a few tips that can help you keep track of your medication :

  • Use a pillbox if you need to take several medications at different times during the day.
  • Take them at the same time to set up a daily routine, like when you’re brushing your teeth.
  • Store them in a place where you can see them easily and frequently.
  • Set alerts on your cell phone.

Jot down the times you take your medication. That way, you can check whether you forgot to take them.

Forgot to take one of your meds?

Call your pharmacist for instructions.

4. Oops! I took one too many

Have you ever taken a medication twice rather than once in the same day? This is referred to as double dosing and it can lead to an overdose. Watch for symptoms of an overdose if you did.

  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart rhythm disorders
  • Abnormal movements

Consult pharmacists, a medical clinic or go to the ER if these symptoms occur.

To prevent this error from recurring, follow the same tips as for countering forgetfulness.

5. Taking your a scheduled time

It’s generally best to take your medication at a set time. That way, you’ll feel the medication efficacy throughout the day. It’ll also keep you from overdosing.

Scientists are also looking into people’s biological clocks to measure the efficacy of certain drugs and patient tolerance.

6. Ideal conditions for storing your meds

Heat, cold, direct light and humidity can affect the efficacy of your medications.

Avoid these areas :

  • Bathroom
  • Near the oven or stove
  • On a windowsill
  • In your car

Check the instructions on the packaging given by your pharmacists. Recommended storage temperature for each medication is indicated on the packaging.

  • Between 2 °C et 8 °C (in the fridge)
  • Between 4 °C et 30 °C (in the fridge or at room temperature)
  • Between 15 °C et 30 °C (at room temperature)

On very rare occasions, some medications have to be stored in the freezer. Only do so if instructed by your pharmacist.

If no temperature is indicated on the packaging, check with your pharmacist.

Instructions for storing a medication may vary once the package is opened. Insulin, for example, must be stored in the fridge and tempered before it is injected.

Keep meds away from your kids

Kids are curious little monkeys who like to get their hands on everything. Things that are off-limits or anything bright-coloured pique their curiosity. All the more reason to keep any prescription and over-the-counter drugs out of your children’s reach.

Don’t just rely on safe packaging. Store them in a locked, hard-to-reach cabinet.

Never leave them unattended, i.e. on a counter or nightstand. Carry them with you and store them after use.

7. Beware of the expiration date

You can’t compare medication to yogourt which you can consume a few days after the expiration date. You must therefore respect the date indicated on the packaging of your medication. The efficacy of certain drugs may diminish or even become harmful once they’ve expired, such as the tetracycline class of drugs.

If your medication has expired, return it to your pharmacy where it can be disposed of safely.

8. Taking your medication properly

Taking your medication properly is taking them as directed by your pharmacist. It means respecting the dosage, the duration of treatment and instructions related to the medication, etc.

Even when your symptoms subside, you still have to finish your course of medication. Only some healthcare professionals are authorized to make a diagnosis and confirm that you’re cured.

Discontinuing treatment is pretty common with antibiotics, which act quickly to treat symptoms, leading many patients to discontinue them before the recommended duration.

You could be right back at square one if you stop taking your medication midway through treatment. You owe it to your health to follow the full course of treatment.

When in doubt

Turn to pharmacists, nurses or physicians for advice. They’re more than qualified to provide you with any information you may need to take your medication properly and help you on your way back to good health.