How to Protect Yourself from Prescription Drug Dangers

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

If the drug does looks different from previous times you've taken it, or if you're unsure about the dosage, don't hesitate to question the pharmacist.According to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, several thousand deaths occur annually in the US due to incorrect prescriptions. A number of studies suggest that overworked and distracted pharmacists—coupled with confusing, sound-alike and look-alike drugs—are at least partially to blame.

Add to that overlooked drug interactions and dangerous prescription side effects, and it gives new meaning to the term “managed care.” In other words, when it comes to prescription drugs, you need to manage your own care in order to avoid disaster.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

* Insist on detailed, printed information about each and every drug you are prescribed. Read the Physicians’ Desk Reference description of all of your drugs, or visit

* Make a list of every drug you are taking—including over-the-counter medications and supplements, and go over each one with your physician. (If you are seeing more than one physician, let each one know every drug you are taking.) I also recommend carrying this list with you at all times, so in the event of an emergency you have this important information with you.

* Ask your doctor and your pharmacist about doses, interactions with other drugs, and side effects. Also, make sure you understand why you are taking a particular drug and how long you will need to take it. Find out if there are safer alternatives and don’t be afraid to ask if you could get by on a lesser dose or discontinue the drug altogether.

* When your doctor writes a prescription, be sure you can read it. If you can’t, there’s a chance your pharmacist won’t be able to either.

* Verify the dosages and drug names with your doctor and, before going to the pharmacy, write them down. 

* Choose a reputable pharmacy that has more than one pharmacist working with clerks and technicians, so the pharmacist will have the time to talk with you. Be aware, however, that not everyone wearing a white coat is a pharmacist. In some cases, they’re minimally trained clerks.

* Ask the pharmacist to show you the drug and tell you what it’s for. 

* If the drug looks different from previous times you’ve taken it, or if you’re unsure about the dosage, don’t hesitate to question the pharmacist. 

* Check the label for your name, and be sure the dosages and drug names match what you’ve written down.

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever caught a prescription mistake?

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