What’s in Your Medicine Cabinet? Resources for Medication Safety

Ten percent of all hospital admissions are the result of patients not taking medications correctly. Twenty-eight percent of all hospital admissions for those over 65 are caused by medical non-compliance.  Many adults over 60 years of age take two or more prescriptions, with around 20% taking five or more in a single month. The health consequences of misunderstanding how to take a medication can be significant – even deadly. There are many free authoritative and reliable medication safety resources. The majority of resources provided are from institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health, such as the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Others are highly-respected non-profit or governmental organizations.

DailyMed (https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/), from the NLM, provides high quality information on nearly 106, 000 marketed drugs. Search by drug name or drug class and receive an abundance of information on adverse reactions, patient counseling information, consumer health information, material for breastfeeding mothers, clinical trial information, and biomedical literature resources.

Drug Information Portal (http://druginfo.nlm.nih.gov/drugportal/) provides quick access to quality drug information. The site contains information on over 30,500 drugs and is searchable by drug name or category. In addition to links to MedlinePlus for consumer information, the database pulls additional information for breastfeeding mothers, clinical trials and US Food and Drug Administration information (FDA).

LactMed (https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/newtoxnet/lactmed.htm) from the NLM is a peer-reviewed database for breastfeeding mothers and their healthcare team to understand potential effects of drugs on breastfeeding infants. Developed by a pharmacist, the site contains over 1,000 frequently used complementary and alternative medicine products.

LiverTox (https://livertox.nih.gov/) from the NLM provides current, accurate information on liver injury attributable to prescription and nonprescription medications, herbals and dietary supplements.

MedlinePlus (https://medlineplus.gov/druginformation.html) is the premier consumer health resource in English and Spanish from the NLM. In addition to information on over 1,000 health topics in English and Spanish, there is a wealth of information on drugs, supplements and herbal topics. This is a great site to learn about prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications – including side effects and dosing. You can also research dietary supplements and herbal remedies to learn about effectiveness, dosage, and potential interactions with prescription medications. MedlinePlus also has health information in nearly 50 additional languages (https://medlineplus.gov/languages/languages.html).

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (http://nccam.nih.gov/), or NCCAM, provides research-based information on all aspects of complementary and alternative medicine. Of particular interest is the use and side effects of herbs and botanicals, and information on clinical trials for these substances. This site is available in English and Spanish.

PillBox (https://pillbox.nlm.nih.gov/), provides information and images to quickly identify prescription, over-the-counter, homeopathic, and veterinary pills marketed in the United States. You can search by a pill’s shape, imprint (letters or numbers), or color, in addition to the drug name or ingredient or pill size.

Avoiding Medication Errors

Keeping a Personal Health Record (PHR) can help reduce medication errors, and assist healthcare providers and family members if you are unable to communicate your medication history. It is also an invaluable resource for all of your personal health history. A PHR is different from the medical records a healthcare team keeps. A PHR can be information that you maintain and keep current, or provided by another source such as your healthcare provider, insurer, employer, or a commercial product. There are many tools available to help you collect, track, and share prescription drug and over the counter medication information.

Drugs.com has Mednotes, a free personal medication eRecord. You can receive instant access to detailed warnings and drug interactions, email notifications of drug warnings, access easy-to-read health information, and generate printer-friendly reports to share with caregivers or your doctor.  Visit https://www.drugs.com/mednotes/ to learn more and get started.

Disposing of Expired and Unused Medications

Drinking water can be contaminated by improper medication disposal. Traces of steroids, antibiotics, anti-depressants and hormones have been found in municipal water sources. There are safe methods for disposing of unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs. The FDA has great information on how to properly dispose of medications at http://tinyurl.com/fdaflush. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Take unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers.
  • Mix prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in impermeable, non-descript containers, such as empty cans or sealable bags.
  • Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs doing so. Visit http://tinyurl.com/fdaflush for a list of drugs that the FDA recommends flushing.

Participate in the National Take Back Initiative occurring several times each year. This program, sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Administration, provides local venues for disposing of unwanted and unused prescription drugs. With support from local law enforcement and community partners, the April 2018 National Take Back Initiative event brought in 475 tons of unwanted or expired medications! Click here to find collection sites in your area year-round.

Dana Abbey, MLS, is the Colorado/Community Engagement Coordinator for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, MidContinental Region.  She can be reached at dana.abbey@ucdenver.edu.


This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012344 with the University of Utah Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library.