Public information campaign to raise awareness of safe and effective use of medicines

A Health Products Regulatory Authority campaign has been launched to encourage people to take sufficient time to read the directions for use that come with their medicine


Three minutes is about the time it takes to boil a kettle, to brush your teeth or to unload the dishwasher. Did you know that those same three minutes can also make a difference to your health? 

Remember the last time you bought a medicine, whether it was prescription-only or over-the-counter; did you take the time to read the information and directions for use that came with it? According to the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), it can take just three minutes to read this important information and it can make a huge difference as to how effective and safe your medicine could be. 

HPRA research shows that we are not great as a nation when it comes to reading the leaflet and label that comes with our medicines. Over a quarter of Irish adults do not read the directions for use and one in three people do not read the information about potential side effects of their medicine. And, worryingly, it seems we are getting worse at this with time. The most recent research found that 26 per cent of adults admitted to never reading the product information for an over-the-counter medicine. In comparison, when the same research was carried out back in 2010, the results showed that the number of people that never read this information stood at 14 per cent.  

Everyday life can be very busy, so it is easy for people to forget to take these three minutes. However, this short time can be key to ensuring you get the maximum benefits when taking medicine. 

Advice and information – package leaflet
Important safety information, such as the contraindications, situations where taking a medicine may be harmful, or potential side effects, can be found on the package leaflet. Patients taking a medicine regularly over a long period of time may be confident that they know all of these important details when it comes to their medication. However, it is important to know that this information and advice can change from time to time with updated details being added when necessary to the leaflet. For this reason, it is very important that everyone, including those on long-term medication and those caring for others, consult the product information regularly. None of us can be complacent when it comes to medication safely. 

Some of the key content included in the package leaflet and on the product labelling include: 

  • what the medicine is for;
  • how to take the medicine and the recommended dose;
  • possible side effects;
  • warnings and precautions;
  • storage and expiry date.

Take three minutes
As the regulator for medicines and other health products in Ireland, the HPRA is running a national information campaign entitled ‘For the full benefit, take three minutes’. The focus of the campaign, which will feature on radio, in print and online, is to raise awareness of the safe and effective use of medicines. The key campaign message is that to get the maximum benefit from a medicine, people should take the time to always read the information printed on the product leaflet as well as any details provided on the label and packaging. The campaign also highlights the importance of talking to healthcare professionals and recommends that people consult with their doctor or pharmacist if they have any questions or concerns about a medicine they are taking or giving to someone in their care. Certainly medicines can help us live longer and healthier lives but it is essential that people take them safely and as directed to ensure they get the maximum benefits. 

HPRA advice: how to take medicines safely
Of concern, the HPRA research results also showed that one in eight people said that they have taken a prescription medicine that was not prescribed for them specifically. In addition, one in five said that they took a prescription medicine for a shorter period of time than directed by their doctor. To avoid these types of errors, which can pose a risk to health, and to make sure that people get the maximum benefit that comes from taking medicines safely, there are some simple, practical guidelines that everyone should be aware of. These are outlined in the HPRA’s advice leaflet: ‘How to take medicines safely’. Written in plain English, this helpful resource includes key safety tips and advice such as:

  • only take a prescription medicine that has been prescribed to you by a healthcare professional;
  • don’t stop taking your medicine unless your doctor or pharmacist advises you to stop;
  • always read the information that comes with a medicine, for both prescription and over-the-counter products;
  • follow the dosage instructions very carefully to avoid putting your health at risk;
  • never ignore an unexpected side effect that you think may be related to the medicine you are taking or have taken. Contact your doctor or pharmacist immediately.

If you have questions or concerns about a medicine, always speak to a healthcare professional. The full leaflet can be downloaded from the HPRA website.

Buying medicines online
The way in which members of the public access medicines and medicines information is also changing with time. The internet is an instantly accessible information tool, and there is a massive amount of medical material available to the public at the touch of their smartphone. 

The influence of the internet as an information channel is growing. A quarter of people (24 per cent) use the internet to source information on medicines, with four out of ten (43 per cent) using it to source information on general health and wellbeing. In fact, such is the impact of the internet that almost two out of three people using it to source information about medicines admit that what they find online influences their choice of treatment.

There are also pharmacies and retailers registered with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (the pharmacy regulator) to sell non-prescription medicines online. Such websites must display a ‘common logo’ which enables members of the public to identify legitimate online suppliers of non-prescription medicines. In this way, they can be sure they are purchasing genuine, authorised medicines online.

Under Irish law, however, the sale of prescription only medicines by mail order is prohibited and this includes over the internet. As a result, there are no online pharmacies which are authorised to supply prescription medicines in Ireland. Despite this, some people do attempt to source these medicines online. The illegal websites offering to supply prescription medicines to Ireland may often appear legitimate and professional. However, it is very possible that they are selling fake or counterfeit products which are known as falsified medicines. For those sourcing and taking these medicines, there is absolutely no guarantee as to what they contain. The active ingredient, which is needed to make a medicine work, may not be present. There could also be too much or too little of the active ingredient, or the medicine could contain different ingredients altogether. As well as these risks, there is no way to be certain where a prescription medicine bought online was made or if it was manufactured to acceptable standards of quality and hygiene. 

The HPRA works with both the Revenue’s Customs Service and An Garda Síochána to monitor and investigate instances of illegal supply of prescription medicines through retail outlets in Ireland and via the internet. It is also committed to raising awareness of the dangers associated with purchasing prescription medicines online so as to protect public health and wellbeing. If you wish to learn more about this issue, the HPRA has published a leaflet that answers some frequently asked questions. 

More information about the safe use of health products, and the take three minutes campaign, can be found on the HPRA website, www.hpra.ie

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) protects and enhances public health and animal health by regulating medicines, medical devices and other health products. The products under its remit include human and veterinary medicines, medical devices, blood and blood components, tissues and cells, organs for transplantation and cosmetics.

More information on www.hpra.ie