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Prevent Medicine Mistakes: Reading the Drug Facts Label

Q: What does every over-the-counter medicine have in common?

Answer: A “ Drug Facts” label. This instructional label gives you important information about what the medicine does and how to safely take it, SO READ IT. Reading the label is important for taking care of yourself and your family. Some OTC medicines relieve aches, pains and itches. Some prevent or cure diseases, like tooth decay and athlete’s foot. Others help manage chronic problems, like migraine headaches.

More than ten years ago, The Food and Drug Administration required that all OTC medicines have a “Drug Facts” label and every label must always follow the same outline which makes it easier to read. The labeling uses simple language and an easy-to-read format to help you compare and select OTC medicines.

The sections and information always appear in this order:

1) Active Ingredient(s), including the amount in each dose. This is always the first item on the label. There may be more than one active ingredient in a product.

2) Uses. This is the purpose of the product. This section lists the symptoms the medicine is meant to treat.

3) Warnings. This safety information will tell you if you should talk to a doctor before you take the medicine, thepossible side effects of the medicine, and what other medicines, foods or activities you should avoid while tak-ing the medicine.

4) Directions. This section gives dosage instructions—when, how, and how often to take the product.

5) Other Information. Any other important information, such as how to store the medicine, will be listed here.

6) Inactive Ingredients. An inactive ingredient is anything in the medicine that isn’t meant to treat a symptom. This can include preservatives and food coloring. This section is important to help consumers avoid ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction.

Poison Centers Handle Medicine Mistakes

There are 57 poison centers in the United States and many people think that poison centers are primarily called for children who have gotten into something they shouldn’t have. Indeed, while poison centers do take such calls, they also take plenty of calls from people who have made mistakes when taking their medicine. In 2012, the Missouri Poison Center received 7,403 calls occurring as a result of “therapeutic errors,” including taking the wrong medicine or inadvertently taking doses too close together. If you need to call the poison center, remember to bring your bottle of medicine with its label to the phone we will be asking you about the name of the medicine and the active ingredients.

Follow these tips for medication safety:

  • Read the label and follow the directions every time.
  • Never take medicine in the dark, and use glasses or a magnifier to read the label if necessary.
  • Never take medicine that isn’t intended for you, and never give a person medicine not intended for them. Do not use another person’s prescription, even if it is similar to one you may be taking.
  • Do not give a child medicine or vitamins intended for adults.
  • Never use a household spoon to measure liquids because the volume in such a spoon could vary widely and the dose would not be accurate. Use the dosing spoon or cup that comes with the product.
  • Put medicines up and away and out of sight of children. Children are curious by nature, and it makes sense that they would be even more curious when it comes to medication. Many medications look and taste like candy. Medications are the leading cause of child poisoning.
  • Maintain an up-to-date list of all medicines for each family member, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as supplements. Show the list to your doctor at clinic visits or doctor appointments, and verify each time you go to the pharmacy for refills or buy a new medicine. Be sure you have any allergies listed as well. Having this information when you travel is also very important.
  • Lock-up or store all medicines out of sight of teens and others who may try to take them out of curiosity or for abuse purposes. The top medicines abused by teens and adults are pain relievers, sedatives and anti-anxiety medicines, stimulants, and dextromethorphan. Dextromethorphan is the active ingredient in more than 100 OTC cough and cold medicines.
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