What you need to know about taking medicine safely

Australians are gambling with their health by ignoring instructions on medication – even risking serious complications, a health body warns.

Every year, more than 230,000 Australians are admitted to hospital due to mismanagement of over-the-counter and prescription medication.

A new survey has revealed a nation hooked on pills, with nine million taking prescribed medication daily, and eight million using two or more prescribed medications each week.

A further seven million ingest a form of complementary medicine every day, shows the poll released for Be Medicinewise Week (20-26 August).

The poll of more than 1000 people, conducted by YouGov Galaxy, found administering medicine to children is a source of concern for parents, with 69 per cent worried about potential side effects.

Mums and dads are also fearful about giving the correct dosage (62 per cent), while nearly two-thirds worry they will forget how often to administer it to their kids.

Half of parents surveyed with children aged 4 or younger have concerns about whether they need to weigh a child before administering a medicine.

Do your homework when it comes to medicine

NPS MedicineWise advises getting advice from a pharmacist about over-the-counter medicine and following the instructions, as special dosages are recommended for children of different ages and weights.

Parents should also use dosing devices to ensure accurate measurements, and keep a record to avoid exceeding the maximum daily dose.

NPS MedicineWise medical adviser Dr Jeannie Yoo says it is critical to be adequately informed about medicines you take, from the active ingredients to the recommended dosage and side effects from stopping use.

“It doesn’t matter whether our medicines have been prescribed by a doctor or bought from a supermarket or health food store, medicines can have side effects, and can interact with other medicines if you are taking multiple medicines,” Dr Yoo says.

be medicine wise

Watch out for side effects from medicine

“Each year more than 230,000 Australians are hospitalised with problems caused by their medicine, and if medicines aren’t used correctly, the results can be serious,” says Dr Yoo.

As an example, complications from overuse of a common anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen can range from stomach damage and bleeding to kidney disease and heart attacks.

How long should you take medicine?

Dr Yoo says 50 per cent of people stop taking medicine within six months of starting, but it is important to always seek medical advice before doing so.

How to be medicine wise:


Ask questions like how and when do I take the medicine, and are there common side effects?


Not all medicines are prescribed – they include over-the-counter medicines as well as herbal remedies, vitamins and other supplements.


These are what make your medicines work. Many medicines have the same active ingredient so be careful not to double up.


Always follow instructions from your doctor or pharmacist and read the labels and packaging of your medicines carefully.


Keep track of your medicines and take it with you at all times, especially on visits to your doctor, pharmacist or to the hospital. Or use our MedicineWise App on your smartphone.

Find more information about medicines at NPS Medicine Wise, or call the Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm AEST excluding NSW public holidays. To report a problem with medicines or vaccines, call the Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237.

Written by Elissa Doherty