Medications can be lifesavers when used as directed to prevent or treat an illness. We also need to remember they’re powerful substances that can bring about serious consequences when used incorrectly.

Each medication serves a distinct purpose and is designed to target body systems, but those systems can get overloaded when multiple drugs interact. The results can be grave. Every year, thousands of Americans die from accidental overdoses or druginteractions. According to the Centers for Disease Control, prescription painkillers known as opioids cause more deaths in the U.S. than heroin and cocaine combined.

Research from the American Medical Association estimates that 29 percent of adults over the age of 57 take five or more medications a day; 46 percent of these prescription users took over-the-counter medications along with their prescription. With so many medications constantly working to alter various body systems, its easy to see how drug interactions can result.

Did you know that you should consistently check the contents of your medicine cabinet? Be sure that you have the over-the-counter medicines you might need and that they haven’t expired. Put a note on your calendar to check every four months before the big seasons hit: spring allergies, back to school and winter cold/flu.

But that doesn’t even address the effects of non-drug interactions. The FDA lists three categories of potential drug interactions: drug-drug, drug-food/beverage and drug-condition. Alcohol, fruit juices and even chocolate can cause potential reactions to some medication. For example, antidepressant drugs such as Nardil can be dangerous when taken with chocolate. Conditions such as high blood pressure can make a seemingly innocent medication a nasal decongestant, for example a serious health risk due to narrowing of blood vessels.

When you drop off or pick up a prescription from your pharmacist, its critical to discuss in detail with them not only the other prescriptions that you’re taking, but also any over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements and herbal supplements that you take.

Your pharmacist is your greatest ally when it comes to preventing adverse drug reactions. They can work with your doctors to adjust medications and dosages to help protect you from accidental overdoses or drug interactions.

When you’re at the pharmacy counter, get to know your pharmacist and identify your needs while building a full personal history. Although you may be there for help to treat very specific illness symptoms, remember that they’re looking at the bigger picture protecting you from harmful drug interactions.

Would you like to share an experience you had at the Sam’s Club Pharmacy?Send us comments or feedback at hlms@samsclub.com, or write to us at:Healthy Living Made Simple, 1703 Phyllis St., Suite 202, Bentonville, AR 72712.

Stefanie Ferreri, Pharm.D., is a clinical associate professor at the University of North Carolinas Eshelman School of Pharmacy. She also is an associate editor for the American Pharmacists Associations Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs.