Table of Contents
FDA Consumer magazine
September-October 1999

picture of U.S. Food  and Drug Administration logo

Taking Time to Use Medicines Wisely

by Ellen Friebert and Alexandra Greeley

Women need to play an active role to ensure their own safety when taking medicines. That is the message of FDA's campaign on safe medicine use--Women's Health: Take Time To Care (TTTC). The campaign, which the agency will launch nationwide during October, encourages women to educate themselves and their families about using medicines wisely.

Safe medicine use is an urgent message, says FDA's Office of Women's Health (OWH). As many as 50 percent of people don't take their medicines as prescribed. According to a 1995 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, medicine-related illness costs $76.6 billion per year in increased hospital stays, lost wages, and death. This is especially significant, the office says, since three out of four doctor visits result in prescriptions, and it is estimated that about 2.8 billion prescriptions will be dispensed in 1999.

The burden for safe medicine use falls disproportionally on women. According to Smith Barney Research, women make three-fourths of the health-care decisions in American households and spend almost two of every three health-care dollars.

Ironically, women frequently neglect their own health, citing lack of time and busy schedules, explains Marsha Henderson, OWH health programs director. "However," she says, "women should not put themselves last, because everyone benefits--family, friends, and co-workers--when women take time to care for themselves and to keep healthy."

To communicate the message that women need to focus on their own health, OWH initiated a pilot of the TTTC program in 1997. The theme "Use Medicines Wisely" included four key messages:

The broad term "medicines" includes prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs--such as pain relievers, laxatives, and cold medicines--vitamins, and dietary supplements.

To take the message public in the most efficient way, OWH enlisted initial support and advice from dozens of groups--such as women's organizations, health-service groups, professional associations, and ethnic and religious groups--that not only had some inherent interest in the TTTC message, but also that could reach large groups of women.

In 1998, TTTC pilot events and materials were in 14 cities, 13 rural counties, and many Indian reservations across the country. The TTTC cities had a full week of activities, including events led by a pharmacist or nurse on safe medication use. Participating organizations and local FDA public affairs specialists distributed "My Medicines" brochures at events and at pharmacy counters. Many cities received TTTC Week proclamations from elected officials to showcase the "Use Medicines Wisely" message.

The 1999 National Campaign

Encouraged by the success of the 1998 campaign, OWH decided to take the campaign nationwide to reach more women. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) volunteered to be the official co-sponsor of the October 1999 effort. "We were thrilled when NACDS wanted to be formally involved with TTTC. It was a natural fit," says Henderson.

Phillip Schneider, NACDS managing director for public affairs in Alexandria, Va., agrees. "We find that pharmacists are among the most accessible health-care providers available to the public" he explains. "The public trusts them as dispensers of useful information." He points out that the proper use of medicines is a three-way partnership between patient, doctor and pharmacist. But patients must recognize the importance of telling the pharmacist about other drugs they are taking.

NACDS will distribute the "My Medicines" brochure at pharmacy counters and also will be responsible for a national media campaign and program evaluation. With the help of NACDS and many other participating organizations, FDA hopes to reach 5 million women and their families with the safe medicine use message.

"Our vision for the October 1999 campaign is that a woman will learn about TTTC when she turns on her morning news show or picks up a prescription in her local pharmacy," says Henderson. "Perhaps she'll read about TTTC in a national magazine article or hear about it on a radio call-in show. Maybe she'll learn about safe medicine use when she attends an employee assistance program or when she goes to her place of worship or shopping mall on the weekend. We hope we have created a way for as many women as possible to hear--and heed--this important health safety message on medication use."

Ellen Friebert is a health programs consultant with FDA's Office of Women's Health. Alexandra Greeley is a writer in Reston, Va.

Brochure Contains Key Messages

During October 1999, a free, purse-size "My Medicines" brochure, that includes a medicine-tracking chart, will be available from approximately 20,000 participating pharmacies from coast-to-coast.

The "My Medicines" brochure has four key messages:

Read the Label: Look for the list of ingredients, warnings, and the expiration date. Avoid Problems: Do not skip doses, share medicines, or take in the dark. Ask your health provider about side effects and report any that occur. Ask Questions: What is the medicine's name? Why am I taking it? How should it be taken? Is there a generic available? Keep a Record: List the prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal products that you take. A chart to help you track your medicines is in the brochure.

The "My Medicines" brochure is also available on FDA's Office of Women's Health Website at

Table of Contents | How to Subscribe | Back Issues | FDA Home Page

Questions concerning the editorial content of FDA Consumer should be directed to FDA's Office of Public Affairs.

(Hypertext created by clb 1999-AUG-10)