1. Playing It Safe

Over-the-Counter Medication Safety

  1. Read warning sections on labels or look up the name of the medicine in the Physician's Desk Reference for Nonprescription Drugs. If you are unsure about taking an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, check with your health care provider or pharmacist. Find out if it is safe to combine medicines (prescribed or OTC ones), to take alcohol with a medicine, or to take OTC herbs, such as kava kava and St. John's Wort with medicines and/or alcohol.

  2. Before you take a medicine, check the expiration date. Discard ones that have expired.

  3. Know what medications you are allergic to. Check the labels on all OTC medicines to see if what you are allergic to is in them. Also, wear a medical alert tag to let others know about allergies to medications as well as medical conditions you have. Get a medical alert tag from a drugstore or from MedicAlert Foundation International, 800.344.3226, www.medicalert.org.

  4. Do not take OTC medicines on a regular basis unless your health care provider tells you to.

  5. Don't take someone else's prescribed medicines. Don't take OTC medicines that you are not familiar with or are not in the original product package. Don't give your prescribed medicine to others.

  6. Follow directions on the medicine's label. Do not exceed the dose(s) specified. For example, if you take 2 acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) tablets for a headache, don't take 2 more in 2 hours if the label instructs you to take 2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours. Also, don't take another pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil) or a medicine with acetaminophen, such as Nyquil, at the same time or within the same 4 hours of taking acetaminophen. This is too much medicine.

  7. If you are under 19 years of age, do not take aspirin or any medicines that contain salicylates, such as Pepto Bismol, due to its link to Reye's Syndrome. This is especially true when you have the flu or chicken pox.

  8. If you order prescriptions and OTC medications online, make sure that a registered pharmacist checks for drug interactions. Access www.nabp.net for a location that the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has given a verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPDS) seal of approval.

{Note: Consult your health care provider about using herbal products, nutritional supplements, etc. Harm can result from the product itself, taking too much of it, and/or combining it with other products, including OTC and prescription medicines. DO NOT take: Anabolic steroids; muscle building products, Green Hornet, Liquid Speed, Snuffadelic; or Adderrall (to pull an all nighter). These can cause major health problems.}