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Are you among the U.S. adults who take at least one medication or those who take five or more? 

Experts call them “adverse drug events”—when someone has been harmed by a medicine—and they’re a serious public health problem. These mishaps account for an estimated 1 million visits to U.S. emergency departments each year and 125,000 hospitalizations. To help you use your medications safely, here are a few simple tips:

  • Tell all your healthcare providers about all your medications. To avoid harmful interactions, make sure all your doctors know about all prescription medications plus any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements or herbs you use. Also, try to use the same pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions so it can help you keep track of everything you’re taking.
  • Store medications properly. Always recap and keep medications out of the reach of children. (ED visits for medication poisonings are most common in kids under age 6.) Also, be careful not to store your medications in locations that are either too hot or too cold. Exposure to extreme temperatures could alter the drug’s potency.
  • Dispose of expired or unused medications safely. In San Francisco, drop-off sites at designated pharmacies and police stations will accept your unused or expired medications. To find a recycling center near you, visit, enter your ZIP code, and search “Unwanted or Expired Medications.” 
  • Take precautions when buying medications online. Internet shopping might save you time and money, but be careful when choosing where you purchase your drugs online. If you decide to order prescriptions on the Internet, order only FDA-approved medications. Choose from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) list of VIPPS (verified Internet pharmacy practice sites) pharmacies on the NABP web site ( Also, be sure the site requires a prescription, and when the medication arrives, ensure it has intact packaging, a clearly marked expiration date, your name and the correct name of the medication.
  • Remember the “Golden Rule”: Follow your doctor’s orders. Keep a list of your prescriptions and take each medication exactly as prescribed. Before you make any change in your medication schedule or dosage, consult your doctor. Asking questions and being informed about your medications is your best defense against prescription errors.