Types of Medication

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Medication: The Facts on Prescription, Over-the-Counter, and Herbal Medications

Medications have many forms. When taken correctly, they can be lifesaving, but if misused or abused, their effects can be deadly. The sites featured in this guide can help you learn about medications by distinguishing between the different kinds, providing usage instructions and overviews of specific drugs, outlining ways to find help paying for medication, and more.

Types of Medication

The types of medication that people take at home can be divided into two groups: prescription and over-the-counter. Also, many people use herbal supplements to treat a variety of symptoms and conditions. Although these differ in many ways, they share one major characteristic: they are all substances that can affect your body in positive and negative ways. This section can help you understand how prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and herbal supplements differ.

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  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Approved medications have to be proven safe and effective. Over-the-counter drugs generally don’t need a doctor’s supervision to be used safely, and their risk of abuse is low, according to the FDA.
  • The FDA does not regulate herbal supplements the same way it regulates prescription drugs. That means supplements aren’t tested like pharmaceuticals, and there isn’t the same guarantee of the substance’s purity or safety. Always talk to your doctor before you decide to take a supplement.
  • Generic medications are those that have a similar chemical makeup to a brand-name drug, but aren’t made by the company that developed and patented it. For example, Claritin, an over-the-counter allergy medication, is found in many supermarkets. Beside it are store-brand medications that are cheaper but have the same active ingredient: loratadine. Generic medications are nearly identical chemically, but cost less.

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Medication Information

Alcohol will decrease antibiotics’ effectiveness. People who take a group of psychiatric drugs called MAO inhibitors can’t eat aged cheese, chocolate, or bananas. For those who take several medications, or those who see multiple specialists simultaneously, it’s especially important to know what you’re taking and how it could affect you. Use the sites in this section to learn about the side effects of specific medications and supplements, how to take them properly, and where to learn more about what you are taking.

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  • The databases in this section provide a great deal of information about a medication, including what it treats, what its side effects are, whether people with certain conditions (illnesses or pregnancy, for example) can take it, and any other special instructions.
  • Be sure to throw away any expired medication in your house, and do not take it. Chemicals break down over time, and a prescription that once helped you could now make you sick.

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Help Paying for Prescription Drugs

It costs pharmaceutical companies millions of dollars to research medicines, get a prescription drug approved, and put it on the market. Consequently, prescriptions, especially newer ones, are often very expensive. For those without insurance coverage, the costs can seem especially overwhelming. But there are federal, state, and private programs available to help defray costs for those who are eligible.

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  • Medicare, the U.S. government-sponsored health care plan, has prescription drug coverage for people 65 and older. Younger people with disabilities may also qualify. To determine if you’re qualified, use Medicare’s contacts page to find the appropriate office to call in your state.
  • Medicaid, a state-federal partnership, offers medical and prescription drug coverage for people who meet certain income guidelines. Those guidelines vary by state, so use the Medicaid contacts page to find your state’s office and learn more.
  • Many pharmaceutical companies have programs to help people pay for prescription drugs. Visit the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a nonprofit organization that works with dozens of pharmaceutical companies, to see if you qualify.
  • Some people use the Internet to buy medication. Be extremely careful when going online unless you’re ordering through a service your insurance company uses. Some insurance plans require you to use mail-order services such as Caremark that allow you to refill medication (with a prescription) over the phone or through a Web site.
  • Ignore any “cheap drug” e-mail you may receive. The pills you order through these sites often aren’t regulated by the FDA and may be counterfeit. They could be ineffective or, even worse, harmful to you. If you’re having trouble paying for prescription drugs, rather than risk your safety on an untested product, use some of the sites below to find help.

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Medication Management

Medications are largely safe, but like anything else, accidents can happen. Because millions of prescriptions are filled in hospitals and pharmacies every year, medication errors, like someone receiving the wrong dose of a medication or the incorrect medication entirely, are among the most common medical errors. The Institute of Medicine estimates that medication errors hurt at least one million people each year. Through proper medication management, accidents can be averted. This section offers tips on medication safety and resources to help you keep track of the medications you’re taking. There is also a section on prescription drug abuse, an issue of growing concern among government officials.

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  • Medication errors can happen in almost any setting: the doctor’s office, hospital, pharmacy, and even your own home. The sites in the Picks have tips for avoiding the common medication errors that occur in each of these places.
  • According to an AARP policy report on medical errors, the majority of medication errors are preventable. Since people do make mistakes, it’s essential you take responsibility for your health by paying attention to the medicines you take.

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Drug News

Pharmaceutical research is a multi-billion-dollar industry that changes every day. These sites have drug news and research on medications and herbal supplements.

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  • If you’re interested in staying up to date on drug news, like safety alerts, recalls, or advisories, sign up for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s MedWatch e-mail updates. If a medication you’re taking is recalled, call your doctor immediately. There could be complications if you suddenly stop taking a medicine.

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