Three Keys to Safe Prescription Drug Use | Mental Health America

You are here

Three Keys to Safe Prescription Drug Use

By Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D and Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize

Taking medication to support and improve one’s mental health is very common. Researchers from the Institute of Safe Medication Practices found that more than 40 million U.S. adults reported filling one or more mental health prescriptions in 2013, the most recent year of collected information. In fact, data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health¹ shows that about 18 percent of U.S. adults experienced some form of mental illness in the past year. Taking a prescription medication to treat a chronic condition, like a mental health condition, requires more consideration than taking a drug for an acute condition, like an antibiotic for a sinus infection (though all drugs need to be used and stored with care). Here are three keys to taking your medication responsibly:

1. Understand Your Timeline and Treatment Plan
When your doctor prescribes a new medication for you, it is important to understand the full treatment timeline. Your treatment timeline includes:

  • When you should start taking the medication (e.g. morning or evening, when your current prescription is complete, at the start of a new week, with or without meals, etc.)
  • When you can expect to see an impact (e.g. will the drug will be effective immediately or will it take several weeks before you see a change in your symptoms)
  • When or if side effects may appear and what side effects you may expect • When or if you should call your doctor regarding specific side effects
  • When or how to stop the medication

Understanding when to stop a medication is particularly important for the treatment of mental health conditions. For example, while most treatments for depression are not addictive, patients may feel withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop treatment. In some situations, it is critically important to work with your doctor to ease off of a medication over time.

Your treatment may also include other therapies such as counseling, individual or group therapy, or laboratory monitoring. Medication is only part of a comprehensive treatment plan for mental illness.

2. Communicate Clearly
Although today’s medical record technologies are becoming increasingly comprehensive, you should never assume that the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist you are speaking with has a full understanding of your health. Clear, open communication is critical to avoiding dangerous drug interactions or possible side effects that may be unique to your situation.

It is important to always provide your doctor and your pharmacist with a complete list of all the substances you are taking, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, as well as alcohol and recreational drugs. All of these can potentially create serious drug interactions with mental health medications. In that conversation, make sure to mention how much you take and how often.

Always speak up if you have any questions about when or how to take a particular medication and be sure to bring up any surprising side effects. It can be helpful to keep a small notebook or file of all of your prescriptions and notes from past appointments, so that the information is safely compiled in one location. Some patients like to store this information on their smartphone so that they always have it with them. The FamilyWize website has a Medicine Cabinet feature that may be of help.

3. Store and Use Safely
Everyone who takes a prescription medication for any reason should practice safe storage and disposal habits to lower the risk of dosing errors, accidental poisoning, and abuse. Luckily, if you are already following the first two keys to responsible drug use, storing your drugs safely can be pretty straightforward.

  • Follow all instructions from your pharmacist about storing your medication. Some medications may need to be kept in the refrigerator. In general, most other medications should be stored in a cool, dry place. Bathroom medicine cabinets are not always the ideal storage spot. Humidity from showers can sometimes affect the stability of a medication.
  • Keep all drugs in their original containers.
  • Store all drugs up and away from little hands, with the child safety cap tightly closed at all times. In the rare situation that a child does accidently take your medication, please call 911 immediately.
  • Only take your medication in a well-lit room (e.g. not in a dark bathroom in the middle of the night).
  • Track your doses. This helps to protect you from accidentally taking an extra dose and it protects your family, in the event that a family member tries to sneak a dose or self medicate from your medicine cabinet.

For more information about safely storing your medications, check out the FamilyWize blog post about keeping your family safe from accidental poisoning. We are lucky to live in a world where there are prescription medications that can help us to manage health conditions. If medication is part of your treatment plan, working with your doctor and pharmacist to take your prescriptions responsibly is an essential step towards becoming your healthiest self.


Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D and Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize, brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care.

The FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card enables everyone, both insured and uninsured, to have access to more affordable medication. By showing the FamilyWize card to their pharmacist, consumers can save on their prescription medications, with average savings of around 40 percent. The card is free for all and has unlimited use and no eligibility requirements. It is accepted at pharmacies nationwide, including all major chains. FamilyWize Prescription Discount Cards are available to print from the website, as a free downloadable app, or through the mail.

[1] The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Add new comment

500 Montgomery Street, Suite 820
 Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone (703) 684.7722

Toll Free (800) 969.6642

Fax (703) 684.5968

Web Sponsor

Text Resize

-A +A

The links on this page may contain document data that requires additional software to open: