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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Taking Medicines Safely

Ask Your Pharmacist

Woman Talking to Pharmacist
Generic or Name Brand Medicine

Your pharmacist is an important part of your healthcare team. If you have questions about your medicine after you leave the doctor's office, the pharmacist can answer many of them. For example, a pharmacist can tell you how and when to take your medicine, whether a drug may change how another medicine you are taking works, and any side effects you might have. Also, the pharmacist can answer questions about over-the-counter medications.

Try to have all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy so your records are in one place. The pharmacist will keep track of all your medications and will be able to tell you if a new drug might cause problems. If you're not able to use just one pharmacy, show the new pharmacist your list of medicines and over-the-counter drugs when you drop off your prescription. When you have a prescription filled:

  • Tell the pharmacist if you have trouble swallowing pills. There may be liquid medicine available. Do not chew, break, or crush tablets without first finding out if the drug will still work.
  • Make sure you can read and understand the name of the medicine and the directions on the container and on the color-coded warning stickers on the bottle. If the label is hard to read, ask your pharmacist to use larger type.
  • Check that you can open the container. If not, ask the pharmacist to put your medicines in bottles that are easier to open.
  • Ask about special instructions on where to store a medicine. For example, should it be kept in the refrigerator or in a dry place?
  • Check the label on your medicine before leaving the pharmacy. It should have your name on it and the directions given by your doctor. If it doesn't, don't take it, and talk with the pharmacist.

When getting a prescription filled, sometimes you can choose between either a generic or brand name drug.

Generic and brand name medicines are alike because they act the same way in the body. They contain the same active ingredients—the part of the medicine that makes it work. A generic drug is the same as a brand name drug in dosage, safety, strength, quality, the way it works, the way it is taken, and the way it should be used. Generic drugs usually cost less.

If you want a generic drug, ask your healthcare provider if that's a choice. Not all drugs are available in the generic form, and there might be medical reasons your doctor prefers the brand name medicine.

What About Over-The-Counter Medicines?

Be careful when taking an OTC drug. For example, don't take a cough and cold product if you only have a runny nose and no cough. And, check with your doctor before taking aspirin if you are on a blood-thinning medicine, because aspirin also slows blood clotting.

Other things to remember:

  • Measure the dose of a liquid OTC medicine as carefully as you would a prescription drug. Use a measuring spoon, since spoons you eat with vary in size.
  • Be careful—OTC medicines can have side effects.
  • Take the amount suggested on the label. If you don't get better, see your doctor.
  • Read the label—even if you have used the OTC product in the past. Important information can change.
  • Remember, medicines—whether prescription or over-the-counter—can hurt you if they aren't used the right way. Learn to be a smart consumer of medicine.

Shopping for Medicines Online

Medicines can cost a lot. If you have a drug plan through your insurance, you can probably save money by ordering yours from them rather than at your neighborhood pharmacy. Or, you might be thinking about buying yours on the Internet. But how can you tell which websites are safe and reliable? The Food and Drug Administration (see Find Out More) has more information on buying medicines and medical products online.

Medicare Prescription Drug Plans

Medicare has prescription drug plans for people with Medicare to help save money on medicines. For information please call 1–800–633–4227 (1–800–MEDICARE) or visit the Medicare website at

Read More "Taking Medicines Safely" Articles

Medicines: Use Them Safely / At Your Doctor's Office / Ask Your Pharmacist / Now, It's Your Turn: How You Can Take Medicine Safely

Summer 2013 Issue: Volume 8 Number 2 Page 24-25