The Latest Drug Safety Checklist
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The Latest Drug Safety Checklist

Unintentional medication overdoses rose 360 percent in the past 20 years. They're the second leading cause of accidental deaths in the United states (only car crashes kill more). One reason? Drug interactions. "Patients have to be more informed," says Michael Wolf, PhD, director of Northwestern University's Center for Communication in Healthcare, so follow these rules.

Go over new prescriptions with your doctor.
Know how to take each. With food? Even if you had a glass of wine? What if you miss a dose?

Use one pharmacy to fill all prescriptions.
Be sure staffers check interactions with medicine, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs (such as baby aspirin), and nutritional supplements.

If you take a lot of pills, get organized.
Use a pillbox marked with the days of the week, especially if your regimen is complicated.

Don't fill prescriptions around the first of the month.
People cashing pay and government checks increase pharmacy workloads; errors spike 25 percent then.

Ask the pharmacist to review drug directions.
Even if the doctor did this, it can't hurt you to hear another take. And make sure refills look the same as the previous pills.

Read labels, notably on OTC ingredients.
Some people don't know, for example, that both Tylenol and NyQuil have acetaminophen.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2009.