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Click here for a message about medication safety from Christie Whitman, former governor of NJ

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Facts. Fiction. Fundamentals.

Medication Safety: It's Everyone's Concern

Commemorate Medication Safety Week April 1 - 7 and draw more attention to this health problem as the 6th leading cause of death. The Women's Heart Foundation started a Medication Safety Week to offering communities strategies to reduce risk while raising awareness. WHF developed a MS Power Point slide program with handouts based on guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Council for Patient Information and Education (NCPIE). The program is meant to be administered by both a registered nurse and a pharmacist.

Are you taking what your doctor ordered? The Women's Heart Foundation recommends maintaining an up-to-date medication record that includes both the generic and trade names listed. This can help clear some of the confusion with medicines and reduce your risk of a medication-related illness. Print out a Medication Record and download the Healthy Hearts guides: Taking Medications Safely .


Seven Focus Days were created to help commemorate Medication Safety Week with theme days to perform outreach at the workplace or PTS, in collaboration with your local pharmacy.

  • April 1: Clean Out Your Medicine Cabinet
    Start with a clean slate. Discard outdated medicines and old prescriptions. Many drugs lose their potency over time. Store medicines in their original containers and in a cool, dry place. Locate medicines away from children and pets and from those who do not understand.

  • April 2: Know Your Medicines
    Know both the generic and trade names of your medicines. Know how to identify pills and know what they are for. Make a list of all the medicines you are taking. Write down both the generic and brand names of medicines as this may prevent inadvertently double-dosing. Know the drug's purpose and why you are taking it. Be able to identify pills by name. List prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, birth control pills and patches and supplements. Keep the list updated and keep it with you at all times. Print out your free Medication Record (pdf format) by double-clicking on Medication Record (English version) or Medication Record (Spanish version).

  • April 3: Read Medicine Labels Carefully
    Are you taking what your doctor ordered and the way he ordered it? Note precautionary stickers on the label. Note the route, dose and frequency of your medicines. Keep medicines in their original containers. Pay attention to warnings. Note that some medicines can react with foods. Others have to be taken on an empty stomach. Some lose potency quickly and must be kept in an air-tight container. The effectiveness of many medicines is dependent upon taking them at the correct times. How the medicine is to be taken ––the route–– is also important (i.e. by mouth, through the skin, under the tongue, inhaling, rectal or vaginal suppository, enema or douche). Be careful!

  • April 4: Dietary Supplements Awareness
    Discuss taking a dietary supplement with your doctor or practitioner and your pharmacist before you start it. Herbal medicines and other dietary supplements can react with medicines and have an unknown synergistic effect. All herbal preparations are contraindicated while pregnant or breastfeeding. For more information, go to Dietary Supplements.

  • April 5: Organize Your Medicines
    Keep an updated record listing all medicines and supplements you are taking. Use of a medicine organizer box may be helpful, especially for those taking more than one pill several times a day, however, a medicine organizer box requires close monitoring, especially when there is a change in medicines. Also, be aware that use of an organizer box violates the rule of keeping medicines in their original containers. Managing pills with a medicine organizer box, while convenient, is not without risk. Take medicines as prescribed. New drugs with time-released action can offer some help with organizing with only once-a-day medicating. Ask your doctor about these newer medicines. Keep your medicine record up-to-date. Go to Taking Medications Safely.

  • April 6: Transitional Care Awareness
    A change in medical regimen can be confusing and can place you at increased risk. Be diligent about communication with all healthcare professionals. Make sure you understand your medicinces and how you are to take them before leaving the hospital or doctor's office. Ask for written instructions. Be extra cautious whenever there is a change in your medical regimen. Double-check your medicines when picking up a new or refilled prescription. If in a hospital or nursing home, make sure the nurse checks your I.D. bracelet before giving you your pills. If a pill doesn't look familiar, ask why. It may be a generic of the same drug you were taking however, if you don't ask, you won't know! Make sure you receive written instructions upon discharge from any medical facility and insist that both the generic and brand names of each drug you are to take is included. Follow the tips listed on the Healthy Hearts Guide Taking Medications Safely.

  • April 7: Better Communication With Health Professionals
    Actively seek information from your pharmacist about the pills and the supplements that you are taking. Ask for print-out sheets on drugs. Discuss all risks and benefits with your prescribing practitioner. Share information about the medicines and supplements you are taking with all your prescribing practitioners and with your pharmacist. Discuss expected effects and possible side effects. Discuss if there are any serious side-effects that your doctor needs to know about right away. Report adverse drug effects promptly and never hesitate to ask questions when it comes your health and the use of medicines. Your doctor, healthcare practitioner and pharmacist are there to help...just ask! Go to Taking Medications Safely. Go to Taking Coumadin® at Home for safety tips when taking warfarin – a blood thinner.


Key program messages include how to store, secure, manage and organize pills; understanding difficulties that may arise in identifying new pills introduced, whether they be generics or brand names; pills that look alike but are different; pills that are similar in color; the importance of reporting side-effects promptly; obtaining / requesting drug information sheets from the pharmacist; reading labels on medicine bottles carefully and paying attention to precautionary stickers; being cautious when combining drugs and herbals and the necessity of discussing this first with your doctor and pharmacist; taking extra precautions during transitional care; and most importantly, the necessity of good, ongoing communication with your prescribing practioners and your pharmacist about what drugs and supplements you are currently taking including other-the-counter medicines, supplements and birth control pills.


Having a successful event takes planning. You will first need to establish strategic partnerships - the media to help you to advertise your event; a venue to host it; and health partners to implement it.

One event could take place at a local drug store by planning a "Brown Bag day" - an outreach activity that involves a dedicated day whereby each citizen would be encouraged to place all of her medicines and supplements that she is currently taking into a brown bag and bring it to the pharmacist for evaluation by a registered nurse or pharmacist. Each person could have any concerns or questions personally addressed, such as synergistic combinations. Ill effects may require follow-up with the prescibing practitioner.

Another could take place in the grocery store, drug store or vitamin store, where citizens are invited to tour the shopping aisles of dietary supplements with a pharmacist and herbalist. This would include vitamins, herbals, soy supplements and other items that a person may be taking as an over-the-counter "remedy" in addition to her regular food intake.

After developing a mail list, you may want to consider hosting a larger event. This could take place at a hotel or restaurant, or in a hospital cafeteria. The idea would be to combine an educational presentation with a "Brown Bag day" at a social gathering. Collaborate with a university that offers a Pharmacy Docorate program and ask if their interns would be interested in gaining some "hands-on" experience. The time involved would be 1/2 day and the Pharmacy Doctorate intern would be seated at a table of 8 senior citizens - all with questions and concerns that need to be addressed when take their medications and supplements. Locate an event sponsor, such as a drug store chain or pharmacetical company. Ask if the company would be willing to underwrite a lunch seminar for 200 seniors to learn about medication safety issues.

Consider reaching out to hospital administrators, members of the PTA/PTO, senior daycare centers and nutrition sites, and occupational health and wellness departments to help you market the event. Design an invitational flyer that is easy to copy and ready to go!


September, October, November

  • Decide goals & objectives. Decide activities to achieve objectives
  • Decide kick-off event date, time, place, activity
  • Prepare a budget and solicit for sponsors to underwrite activities
  • Contact a School of Pharmacy for partnering activities (i.e. Inquire if students could participate at a health fair planned between April 1- 7 as an educational experience)
December, January
  • Prepare press releases /public relations messages.
  • Decide on educational handouts for employees
  • Decide on educational handouts for public
  • Order educational materials/handouts
  • Order promotional items for Health Fair attendees
  • Solicit area businesses for free gifts and contest prizes
  • Announce the event in company newsletter with theme and slogan
  • Plan the April 7 Health Fair
  • Secure the facility
  • Contract for service providers to do health screenings
  • Decide on a menu for April 7 lunch or brunch
  • Contract caterer and vendors
  • Ask a local radio station to cover your event
  • Decide panel discussion topics and on speakers
  • Arrange speakers for panel discussion
  • Re-announce event in company newsletter in more detail.
  • Introduce Focus Days
  • Post statistical data on medication safety
  • Post flyers and table tents in lunchrooms, at water fountains, elevators, etc.
  • Plan kick-off event
  • Plan community luncheon event

  • April 1 – 7:   Kick-off a celebration with company CEO introducing the event with refreshments, balloons and banners. Follow Focus Days for introducing handouts in cafeteria/lunchroom. Team with a school of pharmacy to hold a health fair with community luncheon. Serve a light meal and assign a pharmacy student to be seated at each table to answer questions about medications.

Web Links and Resources

Darlene J. Goldstein, MD of Morristown Memorial Hospital, NJ, Co-Chair
Lyman Hunter, Pharm D of Innovacare Fairfax Hospital, VA ,Co-Chair

Kathleen C. Ashton, PhD, RN Member
Kris Olson, MS, RN, NP, C Member
with contributions by Sarjita Naik, Pharm D of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ and members of the New Jersey Pharmacy Association.



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