Revised: 22 May 2019

Safety Information

Taking Medicines Safely

Where to get your medicine from
Where to go for information about medicines
Labels on medicines
Medicines can interact with other medicines
Taking medicines while pregnant of breastfeeding
Safety packaging of medicines
Storage of medicines
How to dispose of medicines

Where to get your medicine from

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. Medicines are classified depending on their potential risk causing harm.

  • Prescription-only medicines are dispensed by a pharmacist.
  • Pharmacist-only medicines are purchased after consultation with a pharmacist.
  • Pharmacy medicines are available only from a pharmacy or approved rural outlet.
  • Over-the-counter medicines are available from retail outlets such as a supermarket or petrol station.

More information about the classification of medicines

Where to go for information about medicines

You have a right to ask for as much information as you want about the medicines you take and to have the information provided to you in a way that you understand. You should make sure you understand the benefits and potential risks of medicines before you start taking them.

If you have any specific questions or concerns or just want to know more about a particular medicine you can:

  • talk to your pharmacist
  • ask your doctor
  • talk to your nurse or other healthcare professional
  • contact the pharmaceutical company that markets the medicine (your pharmacist can help you if the address and phone number of the company is not on the packaging)
  • look at the consumer medicine information (CMI) about the medicine
  • look at the data sheet for the medicine (data sheets are written for prescribers so please talk to a healthcare professional if you need help understanding the information).

Don't be afraid to ask your healthcare professional questions.

Find consumer medicine information (CMI) or a data sheet for a medicine

Labels on medicines

Take your medicines as directed on the instructions printed on the label or packaging. Taking more than the recommended dose can cause serious problems (eg, too much paracetamol can cause liver damage).

The label should tell you:

  • how much medicine to use (eg, take one tablet or inhale two puffs)
  • how often it should be used (eg, twice a day or every six hours or at night)
  • how long to use it for, if for short term treatment (eg, for five days)
  • how to use a medicine that is not swallowed (eg, apply to the skin).

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 that may be included on the label includes:

  • an expiry date after which the medicine should not be used
  • that the medicine must be 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 or another healthcare professional for clarification.

Always keep medicines in their original container and do not remove the label. Never share medicines.

Medicines can interact with other 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.

Taking medicines while pregnant or breastfeeding

You should also tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are pregnant, become pregnant while on medication or are breastfeeding. This is to ensure a medicine is not prescribed that could harm the baby.

Consumer information leaflet on medicines on breastfeeding

Packaging of medicines

Medicines can be packaged in different ways. If you find one type of packaging difficult to manage you can ask your pharmacist for an alternative.

If you have young children, talk to your pharmacist about having all medicines dispensed in containers with child resistant closures.

Storage of medicines

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 go off 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 too hot. Don’t store medicines on a windowsill, in your car, or in the bathroom.

Some medicines must be stored in a fridge and this will be stated on the label. Only keep medicines in the fridge if you are told to. Do not put them in the freezer. Ensure they are stored at the back of the fridge and out of sight of children.

How to dispose of medicines

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.

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