Medication Handling

What are medications?

Medications are drugs placed inside or onto the body. Certain body cells or organs react to drugs in very specific ways. Because drugs can be very powerful and dangerous, there are special rules to follow when handling them.

What Are Some Reasons Medications Are Given?

  • Treat disease or condition
  • Prevent disease or condition
  • Diagnose
  • Replacement for chemicals missing in the body

Medication Storage

All medications that a facility is responsible for administering or providing must be protected from theft, tampering and inappropriate use. Medications must be stored in accordance with the manufacturer’s or pharmacist’s instructions as to whether the medication needs to be refrigerated, kept away from light, or any other storage instructions.

In a health care facility, medications should be stored in a locked compartment. This could be a cabinet, cart, room, box or other container. If medications need to be refrigerated, they are stored in a locked refrigerator or a locked box in a refrigerator.

Only authorized personnel designated by the entity responsible for administration or provision of medications may have access to medications.

Only individuals who provide medications should have access to the keys to a locked area. If a resident administers his or her own medication, a locked drawer or box may be maintained in the resident’s room, or the room must be locked when the resident is not in the room. In a private home, it is a good idea to store medications in a locked area if children are present.

Drugs for external use (i.e. lotions, creams, ointments) are stored separately from other medications to prevent contamination and to reduce errors. Controlled substances, such as narcotics, are kept in a double-locked compartment or box.

Medication Packaging

Medications are packaged in one of two types of systems: unit dose system or traditional dosing system. The unit dose system is the most commonly used today. In this system, medications are packaged for each individual dose. Individual packaging can be performed only by the manufacturer or a pharmacist. In one type of unit dose system, medication can be removed from the package by pressing it through foil on the back side of the package, one dose at a time.

Another unit drug system is prepared by a pharmacist. In this packaging system, plastic containers with several refillable compartments are filled with one dose in each compartment. The top of the compartment is pulled off by lifting a tab. The container is turned upside down to drop the medication out. The container is then returned to its storage site.

The other type of medication administration system is called the traditional dose system or multiple dose system. In this system, a pharmacist dispenses several doses of the medication into a glass or plastic bottle. The person who gives the medication removes the correct amount of medication from the bottle and then returns the container to the resident’s storage area. Examples might include liquids, such as cough syrup, vitamins, or acetaminophen.

Medication containers must be correctly labeled by the dispensing pharmacist. Each medication container must be clearly marked with the resident’s name, prescriber’s name, drug name with strength, pharmacy name and address, expiration date, and complete directions for administering the medication. Any labels that are difficult to read, damaged, worn, soiled, incomplete or missing must be returned to the pharmacist for relabeling.

Disposal of Medications

When a prescribed medication is discontinued, a resident leaves the facility, or when a resident dies, any remaining medications must be disposed of correctly. The medication aide’s responsibility is to place unused medication in a designated storage area for unused medications. This storage area should be locked. If the medication is a controlled substance, the medication should be secured in a double-locked system. If a resident or family member asks for unused medications, follow the facility’s policy.

The facility and medication aide must ensure the proper handling of medications they are responsible for administering or providing. Loss, waste or spoilage of medication must be recorded according to facility policy.

Controlled Substances

Controlled substances are medications that can be potentially addictive. In order to prevent the abuse of these drugs in a facility, they are counted by at least one staff person every 24 hours. Each counter then signs a medication control sheet. This verifies the amount of each drug present is correct and that none are missing. If the count is incorrect, notify a supervisor immediately.

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