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8/27/2004
Press Release

ASHP Cautions Consumers About Medication Myths

Conventional wisdom is not always accurate when dealing with medication safety. Reliance on “medication myths” can cause serious health problems, some with long-lasting effects, cautions the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). 

Medication myths, like stories from Greek mythology, are often spread by word of mouth. “Many people turn to family members or friends for medication advice, which is how general misinformation can quickly become a myth,” says ASHP President T. Mark Woods, Pharm.D., FASHP, and clinical coordinator and residency program director at St. Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City. “Consumers need to remember that pharmacists and physicians are the best resource experts for answers to their medication questions.”

Several common medication myths include:

1. MYTH: NONPRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS ARE SAFER THAN PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS.

TRUTH: All medications, even those sold without a prescription, have the potential to cause harm. Taking more than the recommended dose can cause serious adverse effects, such as stomach bleeding, as well as liver or kidney problems. Adverse reactions to nonprescription medicines can sometimes occur even when patients follow instructions exactly. In addition, the effects of certain prescription medications can be significantly bolstered or weakened if taken with some nonprescription medicines. Patients should tell their physician and pharmacist about all the medications, including vitamins and herbal supplements, they are taking to help avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions.

2. MYTH: HERBALS ARE SAFE BECAUSE THEY ARE “NATURAL.”

TRUTH: Herbal supplements can be dangerous because they are not regulated as drugs by the Food and Drug Administration, and no clinical studies are required to show their safety and effectiveness. In fact, studies have shown that the active ingredients within the same type of supplement can vary by up to 150 percent. Additionally, some herbal supplements can interact negatively with prescription and nonprescription medicines. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about any herbal supplements you are taking.

3. MYTH: SPLITTING PILLS IS ALWAYS A SAFE WAY TO SAVE MONEY.

TRUTH: Consumers, especially seniors, often split pills to save money, but doing so can disrupt essential properties of the medications. For example, some medications contain a time-release property that is destroyed when a pill is cut, reducing the medication’s safety. Also, because some pills are made with a protective coating to prevent nausea, an upset stomach may result if the coating is broken. Always ask your pharmacist if a pill is safe to split.

4. MYTH: CHILDREN CAN TAKE ADULT MEDICATIONS IN SMALLER DOSES.

TRUTH: When it comes to medications, children are not small adults. Children may react differently than adults to the same medication. For example, antihistamines cause drowsiness in adults but may cause hyperactivity in children. The proper dosage for children may be lower than for adults; however, in some cases, children require larger doses than adults (such as with medications used to treat seizures). Always ask your child's doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about the correct dose of a medication.

5. MYTH: THE BATHROOM MEDICINE CABINET IS A GOOD PLACE TO STORE MEDICATIONS.

TRUTH: Medications should never be stored in the bathroom because of the negative effects of excessive heat and humidity. Additionally, the bathroom is an easy place for children to explore, and medications should always be kept out of children’s reach. Medicines should ideally be stored in a secure, dark location at 65 to 80 degrees, with little humidity.

6. MYTH: MEDICATIONS CAN BE TAKEN SAFELY WITH ANY LIQUID.
TRUTH: Instructions on medication administration should be read carefully. Some liquids may enhance or diminish the effect of a medication. For example, grapefruit juice helps in the absorption of certain AIDS medications; however, it completely inactivates some medications for high blood pressure.  Always check with your pharmacist to determine which liquids are safe to take with your medicines.

To learn about other common medications myths, go to www.SafeMedication.com.

For more than 60 years, ASHP has helped pharmacists who practice in hospitals and health systems improve medication use and enhance patient safety. The Society's 30,000 members include pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who practice in inpatient, outpatient, home-care, and long-term-care settings, as well as pharmacy students. For more information about the wide array of ASHP activities and the many ways in which pharmacists help people make the best use of medicines, visit ASHP's Web site, www.ashp.org, or its consumer Web site, www.SafeMedication.com.