Inappropriate use of medicine can put your health, or even life, at risk

Use Medicines Wisely

Wednesday, September 19 2018

 Many South Africans are not aware that the inappropriate use of medicine, whether it is prescription or non-prescription medication, can lead to potentially serious health complications. That is why the strategic focus this September, during Pharmacy Month, is on educating the public about the importance of using medicine wisely, in order to achieve the best healthcare outcomes and minimise health risks.

“This year’s Pharmacy Month theme, ‘Use Medicines Wisely’ covers four aspects, namely knowing your medicine, storing your medicine correctly, travelling safely with your medicine, and talking to your pharmacist,” says Vishala Gokool-Sewram, general manager of pharmacy at Netcare.

Know your medication
“Ensure that you are taking the right medicine, for the right reason, at the right times, in the right way, and for the right duration. Taking inappropriate medicine or taking incorrect dosages of medicine may result in severe side effects and can also lead to accidental overdosing. Know what medication you are taking daily, what it is for and the names of the medication if possible, or have a list of your medication on hand at all times.  This becomes useful to healthcare professionals in a case of an emergency or trauma,” explains Gokool-Sewram. 
She offers the following advice:

  • Never use prescription medicine that has been illegally dispensed or that has not been prescribed by a medical professional.
  • Take medicine exactly as prescribed by your doctor, and consult a pharmacist before using any over-the-counter medicine, supplements or herbal medication while taking prescription medicine.
  • Read the labels and inserts on medicines and ask the pharmacist about any possible side effects before taking medicine.
  • Never deviate from the prescribed usage without consulting your healthcare practitioner.
  • Complete a course of medication, for example antibiotics, if your doctor instructed this, even when you start to feel better.
  • Always check the expiry dates, especially of your home medicines, before taking them. 
  • If you experience any side effects or discomfort whatsoever, immediately stop using the medicine and consult your doctor or pharmacist about possible alternatives.
  • Elderly people may be particularly sensitive to medication, and should take special care when using medicines. Those suffering from some form of memory loss should be closely supervised, as they may take medicine at the wrong time or take incorrect dosages.

“There seems to be a tendency for people to think that the more medicine you take, the quicker you will get better. This simply is not so. It is vital that the correct medicine is taken in the stated dosage and at the right times, without exception,” added Gokool-Sewram.

Store medicines correctly

  • Correct storage is important to ensure the stability of your medication so that it works optimally. 
  • Store medicine in the original container and in a cool, dry place, not in the bathroom or the kitchen.
  • Store medicine away from direct sunlight.
  • It is critical to always keep medicine out of reach of children. 

Travel safely with your medicine

  • Remember to take your medication with you when travelling or going on holiday.
  • Plan well and in advance to ensure that you have enough medication for the duration of your holiday. This is especially important for all medication but especially for medicine used for diabetic, hypertensive, epileptic and asthma conditions.
  • Store medication correctly when travelling and on holiday, as incorrect storage could reduce the efficacy of the medication considerably. For example, do not leave your medicine in a hot vehicle or in direct sunlight.
  • When travelling overseas, ensure that you have a sufficient supply of your chronic medication, and keep scripts for all your chronic medication with you in your hand luggage or handbag, in case your luggage gets lost.

Talk to your pharmacist

  • If in doubt of anything relating to medication, seek advice from your pharmacist. 
  • Tell your pharmacist if you have any allergies, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have any other conditions.
  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all of the chronic and/or acute prescription medication, over-the-counter medication and supplements you are taking. Many people have a perception that over-the-counter medicine is always safe to take, even in combination with other prescribed medication. What they may not realise, however, is that certain medicine may cause dangerous drug interactions when taken together. Taking certain kinds of antibiotics at the same time as cholesterol-lowering medication has, for example, been identified as a possible health risk.

Gokool-Sewram also gives the following general medication advice:

  • Take care when taking over-the-counter medicine. Some of the most common health issues that people who misuse such medicine experience include headaches, recurring migraines, constipation, nausea, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, athlete’s foot and tooth decay.
  • If you’ve self-medicated with over-the-counter medicine for the period recommended on the medicine insert and your symptoms still persist, make an appointment with your doctor. This could be an indication that there is an underlying health issue that is not being addressed correctly.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol while you are using medicine, unless your doctor or pharmacist explicitly states that it is safe to do so.
  • Safely dispose of expired medication to ensure that it won’t pose a risk for human health or have an adverse effect on the environment.

“When it comes to your health, you should rather be safe than sorry. Ultimately, safe use of medication is a team effort. Your doctor and pharmacist need to have a full understanding of your condition or conditions and of all the medication you are taking, in order to offer you proper support in the management thereof. Individuals themselves should also take care to ensure that they engage in responsible medicine use,” Gokool-Sewram concludes.

Issued by:           MNA on behalf of Netcare
Contact:               Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone:        (011) 469 3016
Email:                   [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]