Medicines: Use Them Safely

Fact: People over age 65 make up 12 % of the American population, but they take
25 % of all prescription medicines sold in this country.

Older people tend to have more long-term illnesses—such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease—and may take several different medications at
the same time.

The New York City Poison Control Centeroffers treatment advice about poisonings inside and outside the home. You can also call with questions about your medicines
24 hours/day, 7 days/week. Call 800-222-1222 or 212-POISONS (212-764-7667). Translator services are available. Calls are free of charge and confidential.

Some issues to be aware of:

► See You Can Take Medicine Safely
Other languages: [Español][中文]

Tips to Avoid Risks and Get the Best Results from Your Medicines

  • DO take medicine in the exact amount and on the same schedule prescribed by your
    health care provider.
  • DO always ask your health care provider about the right way to take any medicine before
    you start to use it.
  • DO always tell your health care provider about past problems you have had with medications,
    such as rashes, indigestion, dizziness, or not feeling hungry.
  • keep a daily record (Español, 中文) of all the medicines you take. Include prescription and non-prescription medications including herbals, vitamins and minerals that you regularly take. Note the name of each medicine, the provider who prescribed it, the amount you take, and the times of day you take it. Keep a current copy in your wallet or pocketbook.
  • DO review your medication record with the health care provider and pharmacist at every visit and whenever you are prescribed a new medicine. New information about medicines may be available that might be important to you.
  • DO call the Poison Control Center with questions about your medicines
    at 1-800-222-1222 or 212-764-7667. Registered pharmacists and nurses certified in poison information are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week.
    Translator services are available.

  • DO use one pharmacy for all your medicines. This will help your pharmacist identify
    possible drug interactions.
  • DO check the expiration dates on your medicine bottles.
    Call the Poison Center to find out the best way to get rid of your medicine after it expires.
  • DO call your health care provider right away if you have any problems with your medicines.

There are also some things you should remember not to do:

  • DO NOT stop taking a prescription medication unless your health care provider says it's okay--even if you are feeling better. If you are worried that the medicine might be doing more harm than good, talk with your health care provider. He or she may be able to change your medicine to another one that will work just as well.
  • DO NOT take more or less than the prescribed amount of any medicine.
  • DO NOT mix alcohol and medicine unless your health care provider says it's okay. Some medications may not work well or may make you sick if taken with alcohol.
  • DO NOT take medications prescribed for another person or give yours to anyone else.

Questions To Ask Your Health Care Provider

  • What is the name of the medicine and what will it do?
  • What is the purpose of the medicine (symptom relief, prevention or cure)?
  • How often should I take it?
  • When should I take it? As needed? Before, with, after, or between meals? At bedtime?
  • How long should I take it?
  • If I forget to take it, what should I do?
  • What side effects might I expect? Should I report them and to whom?


  • NYC DOHMH information and resources about Preventing Falls in Older Adults.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Consumer Affairs Office has more information about safe use of medicines. Contact the FDA at 5600 Fishers Lane, HFE 88, Rockville, MD 20857, or
  • The National Institute on Aging (NIA) distributes a free booklet, Talking with Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People. To order this booklet or other free materials on health and aging, contact the NIA Information Center, P.O. Box 8057, Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057, or call: 1-800-222-2225, or 1-800-222-4225 (TTY).

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