Medication Safety and Your Health

Key points

  • Medicines are safe when used as prescribed or as directed on the label. There are risks in taking any medicine, vitamin or other supplement.
  • An adverse drug event (ADE) is when a medication causes harm to someone. ADEs include allergic reactions, side effects, overmedication and medication errors. They are a serious public health threat.
  • ADEs are a preventable patient safety problem.

Why it's important

The number of ADEs can increase due to:

  • Development and use of new medicines.
  • Discovery of new uses for older medicines.
  • The aging American population.
  • Increased use of medicines for disease treatment and prevention.

Learning about medication safety can reduce the risk of harm for you and your loved ones.

More than 1.5 million emergency visits‎

Each year in the United States, ADEs cause more than one and a half million visits to hospital emergency departments.


Practice medication safety at home

Tips for adults

  • Keep a list. Keep a list of your medicines, vitamins, and other supplements. Make sure your doctor knows about all the medicines, vitamins and other supplements you take.
  • Follow label directions. Take medicines as directed on the label or as instructed by a doctor or pharmacist.
  • Take medicine on time. Some medicines should be taken with meals or during a certain time of day (e.g., bedtime). Set timers or reminders to help you remember to take your medicines. You might try a reminder app.
  • Turn a light on. Turn on a light when taking medicines so you don't misread the label and make a mistake. If you wear eyeglasses, put them on as well.
  • Ask questions: If you do not understand label instructions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before taking the medicine.
  • Get the tests you need: Keep up with any blood testing suggested by your doctor.

Tips for children

  • Know the dose. Always:
    • Read the label.
    • Follow directions.
    • Measure your child's dose using the dosing device (oral syringe, dosing cup) that comes with the medicine. Do not give a child more medicine than stated on the package.
  • Check the label. Check the active ingredients in prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Make sure that you do not give your child two medicines that have the same active ingredient. If you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Use the right tool. If you do not have a dosing device, ask your pharmacist for one. Do not use household spoons to give medicines to children.
  • Get questions answered. If you do not understand the instructions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before giving the medicine.
  • Teach children. Teach your children what medicine is and why you or a trusted adult must give it to them.
  • Lock the safety cap. Always check that the cap on a medicine bottle is locked.
  • Put Medicines Away. After locking the safety cap, always put medicines back in their safe storage location. Keep medicines in a place young children cannot reach or see.

What CDC is doing

  • Monitoring ADEs across the country and using these data to improve medication safety through key partnerships and enhanced policies.
  • Reducing ADEs by focusing on specific medications and high-risk groups.
  • Promoting ADE awareness through nationwide educational campaigns.