What is Your Prescription Drug IQ?

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

Almost half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug [1]. Over 20% of the population takes three or more prescription drugs a month [1]. Not taking a medication — or taking too much or too little — can actually make many conditions worse. Drug interactions can also make a drug ineffective or cause serious adverse reactions.

How much do you know about the medicines you’re taking?
What is your prescription drug IQ?

Looking through a medicine cabinet

Facts vs. myths about prescription drugs

MYTH: You don’t need to keep a list of the medications you take because your doctor has that information.
FACT: Don’t assume that doctors and hospitals have up-to-date information about the medications you take. Although healthcare professionals do their best to be accurate, errors can creep into medical records. Each time you visit a doctor or hospital, bring along an up-to-date list that includes:

  • The names and phone numbers of all the doctors you’re seeing.
  • Your current and past conditions.
  • The names and dosages of everything you take, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies and vitamins.
  • Dates and descriptions of key hospitalizations, surgeries, medical procedures, etc.

MYTH: You don’t need to tell your doctor about herbal or dietary supplements you’re taking.
FACT: Herbs and dietary supplements may interact with prescription drugs. Natural treatments may actually worsen specific health conditions. It is critically important to tell your doctor about any herbal or dietary supplements you’re taking. You also should tell your doctor about any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you are taking.

MYTH: Prescription drug side effects show up immediately.
FACT: Although some side effects from prescription drugs, such as rashes or nausea, may show up immediately, other side effects, such as anemia, show up over time. Be sure to read the information about potential side effects on the information sheet or box your prescriptions come in.

MYTH: You don’t need to double-check prescription information with both your doctor and pharmacist
FACT: A 2003 study of dispensing accuracy rates found that, on average, approximately four errors are made per day in a pharmacy filling 250 prescriptions daily. When you get a prescription from your doctor, follow our tips on how to avoid prescription dispensing mistakes.

MYTH: It doesn’t matter how you store prescription drugs.
FACT: Medications are sensitive to heat, light, humidity or moisture. To preserve their effectiveness, medications should be stored in a cool, dry place. That rules out the bathroom medicine cabinet. Instead, try a kitchen cabinet.

MYTH: Brand-name medications are more expensive than generic because they are more effective.
FACT: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration guarantees that the fate, biochemical and physiological effects of generic drugs are identical or within an acceptable bioequivalent range to the brand name counterpart [2]. The only real difference is price. Generics cost an average of 20% to 40% less than their brand-name counterparts.

MYTH: Drug companies control the cost of prescription drugs.
FACT: There are a number of prescription programs for which you may qualify. PatientAssistance.com is a 501(c)(3) non-profit resource designed to help connect patients who can’t afford their prescription medications with patient assistance programs. In addition, a number of retailers offer special drug discount cards:

MYTH: Prescription medications can only be purchased at a pharmacy with a physician’s prescription.
FACT: Not anymore. In 2007, the number of websites advertising and selling prescription drugs increased by 70%. More that two-thirds of the sites selling medications didn’t require a physician’s prescription. Drugs sold by an unlicensed pharmacy may be outdated, expired, improperly manufactured, or contain dangerous ingredients. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), children are especially at risk in this growing trend.

MYTH: Savvy consumers dispose of old or outdated medications by flushing them down the toilet.
FACT: Wastewater treatment facilities aren’t designed to remove pharmaceuticals. Medications flushed down the toilet end up in our lakes and streams, and ultimately in our drinking water. Follow these guidelines to properly dispose of medicine.


  1. Health, United States, 2010. National Center for Health Statistics. 2010.
  2. Facts About Generic Drugs. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed 2011 Aug 2.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.