Revised: 1 July 2013
Medicines, including vaccines are used to treat and prevent many illnesses. Medicines may also be used in conjunction with other treatments. Medicines must always be used with care.
Medicines can be obtained in different ways depending on their classification:
Take your medicines as directed on the instructions printed on the label or packaging. Taking more than the recommended dose can cause serious problems e.g. too much paracetamol can cause liver damage.
The label should tell you:
The label may also give some special instructions to follow when taking the medicine for example take with food, or on an empty stomach, or avoid alcohol.
Other information may be included on the label. For example, eye drops will indicate an expiry date after which the medicine should be discarded. Some medicines may be labelled swallowed whole which means they should not be chewed or crushed.
Read the label before you start the treatment. If you are unsure about what to do, ask your pharmacist for clarification.
Always keep medicines in their original container and do not remove the label. Do not share medicines.
Some medicines can interact with other medicines so that they don’t work as well or cause unpleasant or harmful effects. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about other medicines you are taking so that interactions can be avoided. Don’t forget to include all medicines that you use, whether they are prescribed or purchased from a pharmacy, supermarket or health food shop.
Some medicines can also interact with food. Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you which foods to avoid while taking the medicine.
You should also tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are pregnant, become pregnant while on medication or are breastfeeding, so that a medicine is not prescribed that could harm the baby.
If you find blister packs or child resistant closures difficult to manage, tell your pharmacist. Medicines can be dispensed in ordinary bottles in these circumstances.
If you have young children, talk to your pharmacist about having all medicines dispensed in containers with child resistant closures.
To prevent accidental poisonings, store all medicines out of reach and sight of children.
It is important that medicines are stored correctly so that they don’t degrade and lose their effectiveness. Unless stated on the label, store medicines in a dry, cool place such as a high cupboard in a room that isn’t steamy or excessively hot. Don’t store medicines on a windowsill, in your car or in the bathroom.
Some medicines must be stored in a fridge - this will be stated on the label. Only keep medicines in the fridge if you are told to. Don’t put them in the freezer. Ensure they are stored at the back of the fridge, out of sight of children.
Do not keep old medicines because you think you may need them in the future. Return unused medicines you have been prescribed, or medicines past their expiry date, to your pharmacist for safe disposal. Do not throw medicines in the rubbish or flush them down the toilet.