Using Medication Wisely

Knowing when a side-effect from medication is serious enough to seek help is a common problem. For women, dealing with medicine can be even more complex.

Women typically take more prescription drugs than men. And studies suggest mothers make more family health decisions, from when to call a pediatrician to ensuring a forgetful grandparent doesn't miss a dose.

The Food and Drug Administration aims to help women avoid unneccessary doctor visits, hospital admission and prescriptions that could have been avoided. With 80 nonprofit groups and corporations, it will begin a month-long campaign about how to use medicine more wisely.

A public service announcement by Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Al Gore, and a brochure to be distributed in drugstores across the country details how to avoid medication missteps.

As many as half of all Americans do not take their medications as directed, FDA Commissioner Jane Henney said Thursday.

Popping a few prescription pills or teaspoons of a cold remedy may not seem risky, but all drugs, even nonprescription ones, cause some side effects.

"Using medicines wisely will help to reduce that risk," said Henney.

An estimated 2 million Americans are hospitalized annually from drug side effects, and 100,000 die. The vast majority of those cases are believed preventable, and the FDA says those illnesses result in some $76 billion in health care costs.

Some problems are caused when the wrong drug or dose is provided. But consumers bear responsibility, too: About 30 percent to 50 percent of patients fail to follow instructions from their doctor or the drug's label, the FDA says.

That's the rationale behind the women's education campaign, co-sponsored by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

The advice is included in a free "My Medicines" brochure.

More than 20,000 chain drugstores will distribute the free brochures beginning Friday. They also can be ordered by calling 1-888-8-PUEBLO, or via the Internet at They will be offered in English, Spanish and several other languages.

Interviews with women who received the brochures in a pilot program last year suggested more had begun keeping medication lists, a big step in avoiding drug interactions, Henney said.