Managing medications at home

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Managing medications at home can be complicated. Find out what you need to know about storing medication at home, tips for filling prescriptions and what to do with old medications.

Key points

  • Always store medications according to instructions and away from pets and or children who can access them accidentally.
  • Keep track of refills so that you don't run out. Always have enough to last through weekends, holidays and vacations.
  • Never throw old or expired medications in the garbage; instead drop them off at your pharmacy for disposal.
  • It is important to keep taking your medications; talk to your health-care team if you have any concerns about the medications or any side effects.

Storing medications at home

Make sure you store your medications away from heat, light, and humidity (out of the kitchen and bathroom). Keep them away from people or pets that could access them accidentally. A locked box kept somewhere out of reach is the safest way to store them. This is especially important if you have younger siblings that like to put things in their mouths. The drugs you’re on are strong and people who don’t have cancer should not be exposed to them.

Tips for filling prescriptions

  • Try to fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. This will ensure consistency and minimize potential errors such as drug interactions.
  • Tell the pharmacist about any allergies or sensitivities that you may have to certain medications.
  • If you have private insurance, make sure the pharmacy has the information on your plan. You may only be able to pick up a three month supply at a time as insurance companies may limit coverage. Drug companies have different policies, however: some allow for electronic billing so that you do not have to pay the full cost of your medicine at the pharmacy and others will require you to pay for your medicines up-front at the pharmacy, and then send in your prescription receipt (signed by the pharmacist) for a refund.
  • If you have a prescription that you don’t need filled right away, it’s a good idea to give this to your pharmacy so they can “log” it. This means they will enter the prescription information on your file and put it on hold until you are ready for it.
  • Try to keep an updated list of your medications. Most pharmacies may give you a list of recently dispensed medications, but remember that this may leave out other medications such as over the counter products, which do not require a prescription.
  • Before leaving the pharmacy with your medications, double check that you have been given exactly what you asked for. Once a medication leaves the pharmacy, it cannot be returned or refunded!

Getting refills

Keep track of how many refills you have so that you are aware before you run out. You can do this by asking the pharmacist or by checking the label of your medication container –the number of refills is usually printed on it. Make sure that you always have enough to last through weekends, public holidays and vacations.

Sometimes you may need to order ahead for refills, especially if your pharmacy doesn’t stock the drug regularly. You can order ahead in person, over the telephone and online. Make sure you give the pharmacy enough time to order in the medication for you. In emergencies, if you cannot get to your usual pharmacy to pick up a refill, you can ask your pharmacist to transfer most prescriptions to another pharmacy that is more convenient.

Getting rid of old medications

Drop off all expired or unneeded medications at your pharmacy for disposal. Never throw medications in the garbage!

Sticking to your medication schedule

During treatment you may be given a lot of medications. It can be difficult and annoying trying to keep track of them. Knowing how and when to take them is important. Speak to your pharmacist about useful options such as using a medication calendar or schedule or setting reminders in your phone.

Some medications have the potential to cause side effects, which can sound scary. However, it is important to remember that, if your health-care team has prescribed something, they feel the benefits outweigh the risk of side effects for you. Side effects can usually be dealt with and don’t always last long. You may think that, by taking fewer or skipping some of your medications, you can avoid hair loss or other appearance-related side effects. There are lots of ways you can deal with changes in your appearance – skipping your medications isn’t one of them!

You may also worry about the cost of your medications. Some teens are tempted to stop taking them or take less to try to help reduce costs. This doesn’t work! Talk to your health-care team if you are worried about the expenses of medications.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019