Medicine safety

Medicines are available by prescription from your doctor and from places like pharmacies, supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations. Used properly, medicine can help to keep you well.

Things to find out about taking your medicine

Even if you have used a medicine before, it is always important to read and understand the information that comes with the medicine. Keep this information so you can check it again later if you need to.

Whenever you buy a medicine or get a medicine from your doctor or pharmacist you should find out these things. 

  • The correct dosage – how much, how often and what time of day to take the medicine.
  • Whether to take the medicine on a full or empty stomach.
  • Whether to swallow pills whole or if they can be chewed or crushed.
  • What to do if you forget a dose.
  • How long to take the medicine for.
  • Whether there are any possible side effects and how to manage these.
  • The signs of any side effects that you should watch out for.

Tips for safe use of medicine

  • Read the medicine information leaflet and the labels on the containers carefully before you use the medicine – they’ll tell you about the medicine and how to take it. If you’re not sure you can remember dosage instructions, write them down or consider using a pill box (sometimes also called a calendar pack).
  • Keep your medicines in their original containers.
  • Do not remove labels as they include important instructions on how to store your medicine and the expiry dates.
  • If your medicines are necessary for your health and wellbeing, carry a list of your medicines and their dosage instructions with you in case of emergency or if you are admitted to hospital.
  • Regularly clean out your medicine cabinet and dispose of any medicine that is past its expiry date or that you no longer use. These medicines can be returned to your local pharmacy for disposal.
  • Make sure everyone involved in your health care knows about every medicine you take, including non-prescription and complementary medicines such as vitamins and herbal supplements. Mixing medicines can cause side effects.

Medicine safety for children

Children see adults taking pills and may think it is OK to take pills themselves. To protect children, always follow these rules.

  • Keep medication out of children’s sight and reach.
  • Ask the pharmacist to use childproof containers.
  • Only remove a medicine from its packaging when you are ready to take it – do not leave it lying around for a child to pick up and take.
  • Try to avoid taking medication in front of children, as they might want to imitate you.

Side effects

Side effects from medicines can be caused by:

  • not taking the dose correctly – for example, at the right time of day or with food or drinks
  • overdosing (taking too much of the medicine)
  • allergies to something within the medicine
  • combining the medicine with alcohol or certain foods – for example, some older types of antidepressants can cause serious side effects when combined with cheese
  • interactions between different medicines you are taking
  • taking medicines that have been stored for a long time, that have expired or are no longer prescribed
  • taking medicines that were prescribed for someone else.

If you think a medicine you are taking is causing a side effect, seek medical advice early so that appropriate action can be taken. You or your health care provider may wish to report the side effect to the NZ Centre for Adverse Reaction Monitoring (CARM). Visit the CARM website for more information.

More information

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about your medicines.

If you’re worried that you have made mistakes with your medication and may be ill as a result speak to your doctor, pharmacist or the NZ Poisons service on 0800 POISON (0800 764 766) – or if you are seriously unwell call 111.

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