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The 3 Rs for Safe Medicine Use: Risk, Respect, and Responsibility

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Optimal health care can be achieved
only when patients are educated
about their health and patients and
physicians work together as
treatment partners in an
atmosphere of mutual respect.




Americans spend over $220 billion each year to purchase over 3 billion prescriptions. Unfortunately, an additional $177 billion is spent to address problems caused by those same medications. Safe and educated use of medications is a key element of our health care. The questions coming into my email about medications show that patients and doctors are not discussing medications enough. From medications to treat tension headaches, cluster headaches, Migraine disease, and other head pain disorders, to medications to treat completely unrelated conditions, patients have more questions than ever regarding their medications.

"Too many times, people misuse medications, either by not following proper use instructions, or not taking them as directed by their physician, nurse practitioner, or physician physician assistant. This misuse often leads to other health problems. That's why NCPIE is launching the 3Rs for Safe Medicine Use program."
                                                                                     ~ Phillip Schneider, NCPIE CHairman

October is Talk About Prescriptions Month, sponsored by the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE). This year's theme is The 3Rs for Safe Medicine Use. This timely theme focuses on the following key safe medicine use messages for consumers and healthcare providers:

  1. Risk: recognize that all medicines (prescription and nonprescription) have risks as well as benefits; and you need to weigh these risks and benefits carefully for every medicine you take.

  2. Respect: respect the power of your medicine and the value of medicines properly used.

  3. Responsibility: take responsibility for learning about how to take each medication safely. Being responsible also means following this important rule: when in doubt, ask first. Your healthcare professional can help you get the facts you need to use medicines correctly.

Especially if your doctor is prescribing a new medication, it's important to ask questions about it before filling your prescription.  Here are some questions to remember to ask:

  1. What is the name of the medicine and what is it supposed to do?

  2. Is this the brand or generic name? (Is a generic version available?)

  3. When do I take the medicine - and for how long?

  4. Should I take this medicine on an empty stomach or with food?

  5. What should I do if I forget a dose?

  6. What foods, drinks, medicines, dietary supplements, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?

  7. What are the possible side effects, and what do I do if they occur?

  8. When should I expect the medicine to begin to work, and how will I know if it is working?

  9. Will this new prescription work safely with the other prescription and non-prescription medicines I am taking?

  10. How should I store this medicine at home?

Another time when you'll have important questions is when your medication has been reported about in the news. Negative news reports naturally raise many doubts, and it's important to get your questions answered. Some questions you may wish to ask are:

  1. Do you think the benefits of taking this medicine outweigh the risks?

  2. What are the risks associated with taking this medicine?

  3. Are there any alternative medicines to the one I am taking?

  4. Are there any alternatives to this medicine, such as making lifestyle changes, If yes, should I try these?

  5. What side effects should I look out for and when should I call you about them?

  6. In summary, would you review the best course of action for me?

  7. Can we set up an appointment in 1 - 3 months to see how I'm doing on this drug?

It's always a good idea to not only read, but keep information about the medications you take. Pharmacies are now required to provide consumer medication information (CMI) leaflets with each prescription they fill. There's no best way to keep information about medications. Find what works best for you and stick with it. Some methods of keeping information about medications that work well are:

  • A portable file box

  • Filing cabinets with folders

  • A folder or folders in a desk drawer

  • A three-ring binder

  • A sturdy cardboard or plastic box

CMI information isn't the only information that can be educational and worth keeping. Other good sources of information about medications include:

  • Pamphlets from your doctor's office

  • Magazine articles

  • Information received in your mail

  • Prescribing information found on the manufacturer's Web site

  • Articles and other information found elsewhere online

A HUGE Question:

Why is so much spent on medications to address problems caused by other medications. There's never one simple answer, but noncompliance -- not taking the medications correctly -- plays a big part in this situation. Consider these figures from a 1996 drug utilization study:


Rates of noncompliance with medications

Condition Rate of noncompliance
Epilepsy 30-50%
Arthritis 55-70%
Hypertension 40%
Diabetes 40-50%
Asthma 20%
Clotting, embolism 30%
Estrogen deficiency 57%




Let's look back on those figures from the beginning of this article $220 billion spent each year on prescription medications and an additional $177 billion spent to address problems caused by those same medications. While those are impressive figures, they're impressive for the wrong reasons. More than 80% as much spent to address the problems cause by prescriptions as was spent on the original prescriptions? That's a horrifying statistic. Let's pay attention to the 3 Rs and work to reduce that astounding figure!



"Talk About Prescriptions" Planning Kit for 2005. The National Council on Patient Information and Education.

Ask Your Pharmacist About Your Prescriptions..." National Association of Chain Drug Stores.


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NOTE: The information on this site is for education and support only. It is not medical advice and should not be construed as such. Always consult your physician if you have new or different symptoms. Never change your treatment regimen or add herbals, supplements, etc., without consulting your doctor.


 The American Headache and Migraine Association (AHMA)...

a patient-focused, patient-driven organization for patients with Migraine and
other headache disorders and their family, friends, and care partners.
Anyone interested in the concerns or patients with these disorders is welcome to join.

The AHMA exists to EASE the burden of Migraine and other headache disorders through Education, Awareness, Support, and Engagement.


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NOTE: The information on this site is for education and support only. It is not medical advice and should not be construed as such. Always consult your physician if you have new or different symptoms. Never change your treatment regimen or add herbals, supplements, etc., without consulting your doctor.

All content on this site is physician reviewed by Dr. John Claude Krusz.

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Last updated Saturday, September 27, 2014.

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