Reading is Fundamental: Pill Bottle Edition
Updated: May 20
On occasion, a DIY project will pop up on my social media page on how to repurpose and reuse common household items. The most memorable “how to” was an article about multiple ways to repurpose empty pill bottles. I was amazed at the number of different ways that were listed; including pincushions, candlelight holders, piggy banks, and even creating lamp shades. All these crafts were included explicit instructions on how to carefully remove the label. Ah! The label.
When you are leaving a clinic or being discharged from the hospital, you try to make sure to get your prescriptions straight to the pharmacy. You may consider talking to your pharmacist about a new prescription. But for your refills, you think, “Naw, I got this.” Interestingly enough, there is information on your pill bottle that you need to pay attention to, and in some cases, keep it in your files.
Here a few things you should pay attention to on the label:
Medication instructions: You may think this is a no brainer, but many people don’t take medication as prescribed. Some assume what to do, but don’t double-check the label for instructions, especially if it’s a medication they have taken in the past. For example, your doctor may want you to take 500 mg a day. But maybe the pharmacy only has 1000 mg tablets. The label may say. “take 1/2 a tablet.” Don’t assume that one whole tablet is best. If you ever think the instructions are wrong, call your healthcare provider.
Refills expire: When you look at the bottle, you’ll see a refill expiration date. It may read “4 refills before 12/31/2020.” This just means you can only get more medication four more times before you have to get a new prescription. However, if it’s December 30, and the refills expire the next day, you can’t get all four refills in one day. If you’re taking your medication as prescribed, you probably shouldn’t have that many refills left the day before it expires. If you think you should have more refills, call your pharmacist.
The medication expires: Okay, I know you’re staring at your pill bottle thinking, “Why are there so many dates on here?” Typically, there are only three dates: The day you received the medication, the day your refills expire, and the day the medication in the bottle expires. That date will usually say, “Use Before xx/xx/2021” (or whenever your medication expires). This is true for pill bottles, liquids, tablet cards, and even inhalers. If you see that your medication has expired, call your healthcare provider.
Description of the pill: Most pill bottles describe what your medication should look like. Let’s say you get a prescription for an antibiotic like amoxicillin. When you open the bottle you may see a bunch of (probably big) tablets with nonsensical letters, numbers, or dividing lines. Those markings are the tablets’ identification. Most labels will let you know what you’re supposed to see in writing. If it says, “Oval: pink” and “Side 1: A; Side 2: 66,” you should expect to see pink tablets with a letter “A” on one side and the number “66” on the other. This is a way you can check if the medicine in the bottle matches the label. If the medication in the bottle doesn’t match the label, call the pharmacist.
Prescription number: Let’s say you have to take high blood pressure medication every day and you have to get refills. To get your refills, you need the “RX” number. If you decide to remove the label, this is an important number to keep on file because it acts as the pharmacist’s “dewy-decimal” system. This number is attached to your name, the dosage, your prescriber, your refills, and anything else they need to know. Can’t remember the number? Call the pharmacist.
Storage temperature: This is not always on the orange-rust colored clear bottles you get from the pharmacy. Sometimes, the pharmacist will put a medication label directly on a bottle or box that came straight from the pharmaceutical company. Always look for the storage temperature for your medication. It’s important to make sure if it should be at room temperature or if it needs to be placed in the refrigerator. If you’re not sure how to store your medication, call your pharmacist.
Your name: Not your brother’s name or your auntie’s name or your best friend’s name. This medication was prescribed to you, and only you, with explicit instructions to make you better. Do not share your medications. Take your medication as prescribed even if you feel better. But if your medication makes you feel bad….nope, don’t call the pharmacist. For this one, call your healthcare provider.
So, before you transfer all your medications into your pill organizer or bathroom drawer, read the entire label on the container. You may see new and helpful information that will save your life.
Dr. Gina Simone