How to Develop a Medication Safety Plan

Medications are usually a very helpful part of the treatment of pain. However, when used improperly, harm or death can be the result. You can protect yourself and your family if you have a medication safety plan. Here are some of the more important aspects of medication safety to help you create you own medication safety plan.

Know About Your Prescription Medication

  • What is its generic and brand name?
  • What is the proper spelling of the drug?
  • Why is it being prescribed to you?
  • What dose is being prescribed and how often should you take it?
  • What are the expected benefits?
  • What side-effects might the medication have?
  • How will the drug interact with other medications?
  • How should the medication be taken?

Read the information the pharmacist gives you and ask any questions you have. Verify that the name and dose of the drug the doctor spoke with you about are written on the prescription. When at the pharmacy, double check that the proper drug name and dose are written on the dispensed package. Look at the pills to be sure they are the right ones. Generic drugs sometimes have a different shape or color than the brand name. If you think something is wrong ask the pharmacist. Mistakes happen and you are the first line of defense in your medication safety plan. Take the medication exactly as prescribed, with no alterations, including cutting, chewing or biting medications.

Know about Over-the-Counter Medications

Like prescription medication, over-the-counter medication have chemical names, side-effects and expected benefits. Know the chemical name of the drug that you want and be sure to read the ingredients. Some formulations are marketed under the same brand name, but contain different active ingredients. Herbal preparations also have side-effects. You should discuss the use of over-the-counter and herbal preparations with you doctor because they could have interactions with you medications.

Store your Medications Properly

Medicines need the proper environment to be effective. Sometimes that is refrigeration, but often it is in a cool, dry place that is not affected by direct sunlight. Traditional medication cabinets located in bathrooms are not a good place to keep oral medications because of high humidity. Use child-resistant caps and re-lock them when you are finished taking a dose. Do not store medication where other containers can be mistaken for the medicine, such a tube of medicine next to a tube of toothpaste. Place them where children cannot access them.

Develop a Watchful Eye

Some drugs commonly prescribed for pain have a ‘street value.’ That is, they can be sold for a price on the street for the purposes of abuse of the medicines. Some common medicines prescribed for pain, anxiety, or sleep, have a ‘street value.’ Below are a few tips to include in your safety plan.

    • Place medication with street value, such as opiods and sleeping pills, in a locked, combination safe. Do not use unlocked daily pill reminders for these types of medications.


    • Place the safe where no one but you knows where it is.


    • Be careful who you tell that you are taking opiods or other medicines that could be sold or misused. This can be welcome sign for people who abuse medicines.


    • Do not allow people to borrow or take your medication and do not take medication prescribed to others.


    • Do not allow a pharmacy to give you a partial prescription for drugs with ‘street value’.


    • Be aware that sometimes people who come into your house to perform services (e.g., cleaning, installing equipment) have access to your medicine. Sometimes the people you least expect, including family members, may be responsible for missing medications.


    • Notice the pills you take. Similar looking pills can replace stolen pills.


    • Do not leave bottles in ‘convenient’ places in the house, such as a bedside table.


    • If you need medicine while away, use a locked fanny pack or purse.


    • In the event that your medications are list or stolen, file a police report. Talk with your doctor about what to do next. Some medicines, like opiods or anticonvulsants need to be tapered down and shouldn’t be stopped abruptly.

Dispose of Unsused Medicines Properly

Your medication safety plan should include a plan for disposing of expired or unused medications

    • . Flushing oral medicine down the toilet prevents use, but some drugs may harm living organisms. Some communities have a household hazardous waste (HHW) collection program that will take unused medications. Call the Department of Environmental Quality in your state for more information.


    • If HHW is not available in your community, you can keep the drug in the original child-resistant container and fill it with a small amount of water. When the drug has dissolved, add some flour, sawdust or kitty litter before recapping. Place the bottle in another container to prevent someone from identifying a drug container in the trash.


    Your medication plan should begin with knowledge of your medications and be followed by rules for storage and safe use and disposal. Make a medication safety plan today to keep you and those in your household safe from harm.