For Consumers

Use Medicines Wisely

collage of women of different ages and ethnicities looking at medicine bottles or pills

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Medicines can treat health problems and help you live a healthier life. When used incorrectly, medicines can cause serious injuries or even death. Many of these problems can be prevented. Read this guide to learn four (4) ways to avoid common medicine mistakes.

  1. Ask questions.
  2. Keep a medicine list.
  3. Follow directions.
  4. Safely store and throw out medicines.

1. Ask Questions

Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to tell you the facts about each medicine you take.

  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • What is the active ingredient(s)?
  • What is the medicine for?
  • How much do I take and when should I take it?
  • What does it look like?
  • When does it expire?
  • Are there any side effects or special warnings?
  • What should I do if I start having side effects?
  • Can I take it if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
  • What other medicines or foods should I avoid?

2. Keep a Medicine List

Write down the important facts about each medicine you take.

  • List each prescription medicine.
  • Include vitamins and over-the-counter medicines like aspirin and cold medicine.
  • Keep the list with you all the time.
  • Show it to your doctor, nurse, and pharmacist.

Download a free My Medicines record keeper. (PDF 1.5 MB)

3. Follow Directions

Your medicine may not work if you don’t follow the directions. Taking too much or too little can make you very sick.

Use Medicines as Directed.

  • Read the directions on the label and ask your healthcare provider how much you should take and when.
  • Never skip taking your prescription medicine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you stop taking your medicines.
  • Only take the suggested dose.

Avoid Common Problems.

  • Don’t share medicines.
  • Don’t use medicine in the dark where you can’t see what you are taking.
  • Check the expiration date on your medicine. It may not be safe or work after it has expired.

4. Safely Throw Out Medicines

Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist how you should get rid of unused medicines. Find out if you should:

  • flush it down the toilet or sink.
  • put it in a sealed plastic bag with coffee grounds or kitty litter and throw it in the trash.
  • drop it off at a drug take-back program in your community.

Be sure to scratch off your name and personal information before you put empty pill bottles in the trash.

Make sure that children can’t get to medicines including patches that you put in the trash.

Check the FDA website to see which medicines should be flushed down the toilet or sink.  


Lock It Up.

Keep your medicine locked in a safe place away from your kids and other adults.

Watch the video to learn how to safely store your medicines at home.


Avoid common medicine mistakes. Check the FDA website for more resources for women and their families.

  • Get a record keeper to list your medicines.
  • Download a booklet to help you talk to your doctor about your prescription medicines.
  • Watch videos to learn other helpful tips.

www.fda.gov/womenshealthsafemeds

Page Last Updated: 09/19/2014
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