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.

What is the National Network of Libraries of Medicine?

What is the National Network of Libraries of Medicine?

Coordinators from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) hear that question a lot. NNLM is a government program, coordinated by the National Library of Medicine, and carried out through a nationwide network of health science libraries and information centers. Its mission is to advance the progress of medicine and improve the public health by providing access to biomedical and health information. NNLM has been around in one form or another for over 40 years. To understand what it does now, it helps to have some background knowledge of where it came from.

National Library of Medicine

In 1836 the Library of the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army was established in Washington D.C., with a budget of $150 for medical books. Over the next century, this library went through several moves and name changes, and was finally rechristened the National Library of Medicine in 1956. The largest biomedical library in the world, it is one of the National Institutes of Health located in Bethesda, Maryland and the building is roughly the size of four football fields.

The Regional Medical Library Program

In 1965, The Medical Library Assistance Act authorized the National Library of Medicine to develop a national system of Regional Medical Libraries. Eleven regional health science libraries were funded to provide resource sharing and interlibrary loan services via DOCLINE across US medical school libraries. By the late 1980s the mission of the program included outreach to health professionals and a focus on regional needs.

The National Network of Libraries of Medicine

The Regional Medical Library Program was renamed the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) in 1991. At this time, the network was configured into 8 regions that remain today. In the years since, the National Library of Medicine has gone through many different changes that have been echoed in the work of NNLM. When the National Library of Medicine began making its collection available online via PubMed and MedlinePlus, NNLM began providing outreach and training to the public on these resources through public libraries, community, and faith-based organizations. The charge of NNLM was expanded to include a focus on outreach to special and underserved populations and this was implemented by offering funding to network members and exhibiting at conferences and events.

The MidContinental Region

The MidContinental Region (MCR) of NNLM includes Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming. It is administered through the University of Utah’s Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library, but each state in the region has a dedicated outreach coordinator. In addition to its focus on health information outreach, the MCR also concentrates on areas such as community and library engagement, education, research enterprise, rural health, and technology.


All courses and webinars offered by NNLM are free of charge and many offer free continuing education credits through the Medical Library Association. The MidContinental Region hosts a monthly information webinar called Breezing Along with the RML that features a variety of topics relevant to librarianship, health sciences, technology, research, and community outreach. Additional webinars, as well as in-person and online courses, are frequently made available from the MCR and other regions of NNLM. Visit the national Training Schedule for a list of all upcoming training opportunities.


To help Network members better serve the health needs of their community, NNLM offers funding for projects that improve access to health information, increase engagement with research and data, expand professional knowledge, and support outreach that promotes awareness and use of NLM resources in local communities.

Your State Coordinator

Each state in the MidContinental Region has an embedded state outreach coordinator. In Colorado, Dana Abbey works out of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Library. She is happy to serve as a resource for any health information needs throughout the state of Colorado or in the Denver Metro area. She can be reached at dana.abbey@ucdenver.edu or 303-724-2110. Dana also exhibits at CALCON each year, so please stop by and say “hi”!

NNLM Membership

Membership in the National Network of Libraries of Medicine is free and easy. You don’t have to be a medical library to join, you don’t even have to be a library. Any organization that shares health information is welcome to sign up and take advantage of our training and funding opportunities and join our community. Benefits of Network membership include a certificate of recognition, training opportunities, eligibility for project funding, document delivery services, emergency preparedness planning and response, and partnerships with other NNLM members.


This was the first time I had attended CALCON and I got a crash course in conference attendance.  I will take many of these lessons with me as I attend future conferences.

I learned to bring a notebook and pen to each session.  Apparently, presenters no longer provide print-outs of their slides.  The slides are all available on the conference website.  I also learned that bringing snacks is a good idea.

I learned that it may feel as if everyone else attended the conference with at least one friend or colleague.  This can be intimidating, but ultimately everyone is at the conference to learn.  When I made the effort to introduce myself, I met many interesting, nice librarians.

I learned the value of moving beyond my comfort zone when choosing sessions.  The presentations that were most valuable to me were on topics of which I had little previous knowledge.  Overall, I had a great time and the opportunity was invaluable.  In order to get the most out of the experience, I had to move beyond my comfort zone.

I promoted to a supervisor position this past April.  Because of this, I attended many of the sessions that were included in the Leadership track.  I gained a lot of insight from both presenters and other attendees.  There was information on how to supervise, how to hire new staff, and how to stay excited about a job that sometimes involves difficult conversations.  Additionally, I left with many resources to continue learning on my own.

Overall, attending CALCON was a challenging and rewarding experience.

Librarians, Make Happy Work!

As a librarian new to Colorado this year, I was thrilled to attend CALCON in October and meet many new people from all over the state who love their work in–and with–libraries as much as I do.

CALCON was such a positive experience for me, from networking to attending keynote sessions, to attending the quick and enlightening lightning sessions. My most inspirational session had to be the
first: Social Super Glue: How to Improve Your Library’s Workplace Culture with Kris Boesch. While Boesch doesn’t work in libraries, her session on how to “make happy work” was especially poignant to me.

Librarians and library staff are public service workers who often take on much of the challenges and stress their patrons face each day. We can become overwhelmed by negativity and pass it on. Boesch pointed out how crucial it is to have happy staff in a library, because happy employees make 26% fewer mistakes than unhappy employees, and unhappy employees can cost $30,000 more a year for a library to employ. This is due to a decrease in productivity, contagious negativity, bad customer service, turnover, safety
incidents, and a difficulty in recruiting new staff. On the other side, a happy employee is more productive, shares their happiness, shows better customer service, and makes less mistakes with fewer absences than even an average employee.

As a branch manager, I realized how much of an impact one person’s happiness can be on the entire staff. That’s due to the fact that full-time people spend an average of 2,000 hours of their life at work each
year. Imagine what it’s like for a department of 5 (10,000 hours) or 20 (40,000 hours). It’s my job to not only for me to focus on my own happiness, but also to make a happy and positive environment for all of my staff.

Where do we begin?

Empathy. Respect. Kindness. Curiosity. Understanding our purpose.

From here, I created an action plan to “make happy work” at my library. My actions include:

1.) Acknowledging the successes and struggles of others

  • It makes an impact on people when they realize that their work
    is noticed by others. By acknowledging their lives, we’re acknowledging that
    they matter.

2.) Coming from a place of curiosity in conversations

  • By beginning a conversation or interaction with the intention of
    learning something, you’re creating an atmosphere of respect and interest. This
    is very simple, yet powerful. How often do we come into a meeting with a
    preconceived notion of what we expect to get from it? By merely leaving
    judgment at the door, you open endless opportunities to learn from those around

3.) Leading a “Rose, Bud, Thorn” exchange at the beginning of a meeting, which encourages staff to think more deeply about how work is going and share it with the team.

  • Ask your staff or colleagues these things:
    • What is your rose (What is
      the highlight of your day/week/month?)
    • What is your bud? (What
      are you looking forward to?)
    • What is your thorn? (What is
      your challenge? What is going wrong?)
  • I have already attempted this in meetings, and IT WORKS. The time in a meeting for sharing went from one sentence answers to thoughtful conversations that staff all participated in.

Boesch’s keynote was the perfect introduction to CALCON, because it inspired me to think about the significance of my staff’s happiness each day. I came from many sessions with program ideas, new leadership skills, ways to increase the library’s relationship with the community, and the expertise of
new people. However, if my staff aren’t happy, then everything I learn and implement won’t work how I intend, and we’ll never reach our goals. It’s up to each of us to work on our own happiness and help our colleagues and patrons be happy.

As Boesch highlighted, “The secret to success is simply a decision.” And, I am committed to being happy and helping those around me make happy work.


CALCON 2017: Connections

During CALCON I attended several workshops most regarding children and teen based programming. I learned new ways to connect with the children in our community to create a lifelong partnership. I enjoyed talking with other attendees from various libraries and sharing stories and ideas about inspiring children to learn and create.


I would not have been able to attend CALCON without the Colorado State Library MPLA/CALCON 2016 Small/Rural Scholarship. My library is both small and rural, and I’ve had to make some sacrifices in our Professional Development/Continuing Education Budget. Being small and rural can sometimes feel a bit isolated, and CALCON is a nice opportunity to stay fresh on the changes of our profession.

This year was exceptionally fun joined with MPLA – those people are wild. We have a very active and inspiring library community in Colorado, but it was nice to get additional perspectives. I attended the ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ session presented by Christopher Schipper and Kimberly Lowe of San Juan College in New Mexico. They presented about their WiFi hotspot checkout program, and while I know Denver Public Library recently did this, San Juan College’s experiences and struggles seem to closely align with the struggles I would have launching a program in my library district. I recognized a lot of the same characteristics of my community: rural, geographically isolated, and low income. CAL Logo

To me, conferences are all about discovery and sharing. I was lucky enough to attend both lightning talk sessions and present my own talk. The Lightning Round Sessions consisted of about 10 presenters, each of us speaking for 4 mins on a wide variety of topics.

My presentation was ‘Creating a Colorado Collection’ about my library’s implementation of identifying materials about Colorado or by Colorado authors. This is a project I’m very proud of. It was a simple idea, fairly easy to implement, and has received a bunch of positive praise from our patrons. I was excited for the opportunity to share this project & idea, but there is NO WAY I’d be able to stretch the information into a full hour session. There is only so long a person can talk about CO Flag Spine labels.

Thoughts on MPLA/CALCON 2016

I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended CALCON16 through a scholarship for MLS students.  Having just started a new position in public libraries in the last six months, the conference gave me so many new ideas to explore and try. CAL Logo

I was inspired by the presentation on creating dynamic displays given by some folks at Castlewood Concept Library.  Creating engaging displays is something I am passionate about and I learned that displays are not always all books, but can include trinkets and other items.  I have already implemented some of their ideas for my displays and look forward to coming up with more creative designs. 

I was amazed by the passion and enthusiasm of April Miller and Jackie Kropp on their presentation for seducing romance readers.  I am not a romance reader, but I left with tons of knowledge on romance genres and recommended authors in each genre which I can’t wait to share with patrons.

From implementing trivia in bars to creating effective makerspaces, or inviting big-name authors to your library, I learned a lot and look forward to attending again next year!


Librarians as “First Responders”

After graduating in May of 2015 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison SLIS program, I was lucky enough to land my perfect job (Adult Programming and P.R. Librarian at Pine River Library) in my perfect place (SW Colorado: nestled between desert and mountains, home to some of the best hiking, biking, and skiing in the West, if you ask this Alaska and Montana girl!). Add to that, my own office in a library connected to a community garden, with yoga classes three times a week???! I knew right away that I had a high standard of excellent, innovative, engaging programming and services to live up to!

In my first year of librarianship, I’ve been was lucky enough to attend two conferences, one national (PLA) and one local (CAL). I know that it’s the main point of these professional convergences, but both times I have returned to my desk with a pages of useful notes, with a few cryptic jottings here and there (“Colorado Spider Survey”?!). The brainstorming I did in the margins of my notebook during CAL looks like it will generate enough ideas to bring me through the next year of adult programming at least!

When I first set out to write this blog, I was thinking that I would follow the traditional route, talking about the sessions I liked the most from the conference. But in the wake of last week’s election results, I’ll go big picture here instead. I now realize that one of the most affecting sessions I attended at CAL was Jamie LaRue’s Julie J. Boucher Memorial Lecture on Intellectual Freedom. I had always heard that he was a bit of a rockstar in the library world, but this lecture really proved that fact. His wit, grace, and well-honed appeal for the importance of Intellectual Freedom had everyone in the room inspired about our chosen profession.

With recent events, Jamie’s inspirational words are returning to me even louder than when he shared them a month ago. In light of the drastic change of rhetoric we are facing, the importance of libraries is even stronger. Just two days after the election, the Los Angeles Times featured a column entitled ”How to weather the Trump administration: Head to the library.” In this appeal for the equalizing power of libraries, David Kipen, former literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts writes:

“If all these experiences have taught me anything, it’s that librarians may be the only first responders holding the line between America and a raging national pandemic of absolutism. More desperately than ever, we need our libraries now, and all three of their traditional pillars: 1) education, 2) good reading and 3) the convivial refuge of a place apart. In other words, libraries may be the last coal we have left to blow on.”

Oh yeah baby! CAL Logo

Jamie LaRue warned us about the changing trends he sees in challenges to books: More challenges are coming at the high school level, and these challenges are often directed at books that are a part of school curriculum. By the time the next election comes around, these students will be a part of the voting public, part of a generation who could mobilize in the voting booths and shift our country back towards the more inclusive ideals (and beyond) that America has worked so hard in the past to reach. As Jamie reminds us, libraries must fight to retain open access to thoughts, materials, ideas, art, stories… all the things that will continue to “make America great” no matter the administration in power at the time.

I’ll end this blog with a quote from the great Kurt Vonnegut, which my library director shared in the days after the election. Let’s keep fighting the good fight!

“The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”