Every year more than 2000 New Zealanders go to hospital because of accidental poisoning. Here are some safety tips for medicines that can help to prevent poisoning.
Accidents and other problems with medicines may happen if:
- you put medicines into different bottles
- you don’t take medicines as prescribed
- children find medicines and take them.
Here are 10 simple tips to keep you and your family safe.
1. Follow the directions on the label
Take your medicines as directed on the label or packaging. Do not take more than the prescribed dose if you are not sure. Check the dose with your doctor or pharmacist. Some medicines have special instructions to reduce or avoid side effects, eg, take with food or avoid alcohol.
When you collect a new medicine, ask your pharmacist when to take it and whether there are any special instructions.
2. Keep medicines in the original containers
Medicines dispensed from the pharmacy are in containers labelled with the name of the person who is to take them, the dose and how often to take them.
Many medicines are foil packed. Keep them in the foil until you take them. Foil packaging slows down the number of tablets that children can take quickly if they find them. Foil packaging also protects medicines from damage.
If foil packs are hard for you to open, ask your pharmacist if they can pop the tablets into a labelled container for you. Don't pop them out yourself at home and put them into an old pharmacy bottle and never put medicines into food or drink containers.
3. Get your medicines packed at your pharmacy
If you are taking a few medicines or can’t remember to take them, your pharmacy may be able to put them in to calendar packs (also called blister packs, sachets or Medico Packs). The pharmacist can sort them into clear these plastic bubbles or sachets – one for each time of day. This makes it safer and easier for you.
4. Talk to your pharmacist if your medicines look different
If your medicines look different to your last supply, talk to your pharmacist. Medicines can have more than one brand name and may look different but it’s always best to check and be sure.
5. Check when you buy non-prescription medicines
Sometimes one medicine can interact with another in your body. This means your medicines may not work the same and may cause side effects. This can also happen when medicines mix with certain foods or drinks (including alcohol).
When buying medicines yourself, such as over-the-counter medicines from a pharmacy or supermarket or herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals, always ask your pharmacist about interactions.
If you are starting a new medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist to check if it is okay to take them with other medicines you are taking.
6. Ask if you can chew, crush or break tablets or open capsules
If you have problems swallowing your tablets or capsules, ask your pharmacist if it is safe to chew, crush or break tablets, or open capsules. Some medicines don't work properly or may be harmful if they're crushed or opened.
7. Store medicines safely
Most medicines can be kept at room temperature, but some need to be stored in the fridge. Don't keep medicines in the fridge unless the label says to do so.
The bathroom is not a good place to store medicine. The steam from baths and showers can stop them working well. If you notice that your tablets have changed, show them to your pharmacist before using them. They may have been damaged by moisture or changing temperatures.
8. Don’t take old medicines or medicines that aren't yours
It can be easy to just use medicines you have at home, but you should not take medicines that:
- were prescribed for someone else
- are past their use by date
- were prescribed for you months or years ago, even if you have the same condition now.
If you have new symptoms or need medicines, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
9. Dispose of old medicines safely
If you have leftover medicines, take them to your pharmacy for safe disposal. Don't put medicines in the rubbish or down the toilet. This can harm the environment. Read more about how to dispose of unwanted medicines properly.
10. Keep medicines out of reach of children
Young children don't know what medicines are – to them they look like lollies, and it only takes a few minutes for them to help themselves. If children see you taking medicines, they may want to copy you if they find them.
The best place to keep medicines is in a high locked cabinet. If this is not possible, keep them in a place that is hard for children to see and reach. Remember that children over the age of 2 can be expert climbers!
All medicines can be dangerous, especially in overdose. Medicines that you can buy in the supermarket, like paracetamol, are very harmful if too much is taken.
If you think a child or someone else has taken a medicine that is not for them, call the National Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766 for advice, or call 111 for an ambulance. They will tell you what to do. If you have to go to hospital, take the medicine and the container with you. This will give the hospital good information about the medicine and how much has been taken.
Medication safety Health Quality and Safety Commission, NZ
Patient guide for safe use of medicines (English), (Chinese), (Korean) SafeRx, Waitematā DHB, NZ
Dispose of unwanted medicines properly (D.U.M.P) SafeRx, Waitematā District Health Board, NZ
Use of medicines in New Zealand Health Quality and Safety Commission, NZ