Emergency Medicine Overview

NewYork-Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center

Emergency Medicine



Learn about commonly prescribed emergency medications

There are some common medications that are given in the Emergency Room. A list of these medications and some side effects can be found here (link to drug info card). Keep in mind that this list does not include every medication or side effect. If you have questions about your medications, please ask your nurse, pharmacist, or provider. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Medications

General Information

What information about my medications do I need to bring for my visit to my doctor or hospital?

In order to have the most accurate information about your medications, we suggest that you make a list of your medications and bring it with you. This list should include all of your medications, even over-the-counter medications. Also include a note on how you take these medications, not how it is written on the bottle.

Taking Your Medication

How can I remember to take my medications?

We understand that it can be challenging to take your medications. Here are some suggestions to help:

  • Buy a pillbox or medication organizer from your local pharmacy or online retailer. These can be used to sort your medications weekly and is a great option if you have several medications.
  • Set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you when to take your medication.
  • Some pharmacies offer blister packaging that can sort out your medications for you. Ask your local pharmacist if they offer this service, or look online for mail order companies.
What is the difference between brand and generic medications?

Brand name medications are named by the drug company that first puts the drug on the market. Generic medications contain the active ingredient that makes the brand name drug work, but differ in the inactive ingredients, such as color or flavor. It is important to know that generic drugs also undergo testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are as effective and safe as the brand medication. Choosing a generic medication can save patients money.

Will I have side effects with my medication?

All medications have side effects, but these vary in severity and from patient to patient. The most common side effects of medications include stomach upset and nausea/ vomiting. These generally decrease or completely disappear as you continue taking the medication. Other side effects depend on how the particular medication works in the body, or may be related to other medications you are taking, certain diseases, or genetic factors. It is important to speak with your provider or pharmacist about your medications so that they can explain the possible side effects and those side effects that require you to call your doctor.

What do I do if I experience an allergic reaction to a medication?

If you have any difficulty breathing, feel that your throat/mouth is closing up, or are having a symptom that is life threatening, call 911 immediately. For other potential allergic reactions, contact your doctor or pharmacist immediately, or seek medical attention.


Will I get an antibiotic if I don’t feel well?

Your doctor will do tests to see if you have an infection that’s caused by a bacteria or a virus. While you can feel horrible with a viral infection, antibiotics aren’t needed. Antibiotics work to kill bacteria, not viruses. We don’t want to over prescribe antibiotics since they can cause some serious side effects. Also, if we give antibiotics inappropriately, bacteria can change their genetic coding and become resistant to the antibiotics we can prescribe.

Can I stop taking my antibiotics if I feel better?

No. It is important to finish your entire course of antibiotics even if you start to feel better. If the entire course isn’t taken, there is a chance that the infection can get worse. It is also possible that the remaining bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotics we prescribe.

Medication Storage and Disposal

Where should I store my medication?

Most medication should be stored in a cool, dry place. This means the medicine cabinet in the bathroom is not the best place to keep medications. It can be helpful to keep your medication in your bedside drawer or on the kitchen table as a visual reminder to take your medication. Keep in mind that all medications should be kept out of reach from children and pets. Some medications require refrigeration or special storage. Check with your pharmacist if you are not sure how to store your medication.

Does the hospital take unused medication for disposal?

The hospital does not provide disposal services for medications. A list of pharmacies that participate in the Drug Take Back Program can be found usdoj.gov.

Can I flush my medications down the toilet or throw them into the trash?

In order to protect others, please do not flush your medications into the toilet or throw them into the trash. Instead, please see which pharmacies participate in the Drug Take Back Program above.

There are some pain medications that can be safely flushed down the toilet if there are no alternative options. The FDA has a complete list that can be found fda.gov.

How can I dispose of medications at home?

If there are no take back programs in your area, there are ways to safely dispose of your medications. It is important to remember that unused medications should not be flushed or poured into a sink or drain. Medications can be thrown in the trash following these steps:

  • Mix your unused medication with coffee grounds or kitty litter. This is done to make it less appealing to anyone who can accidently or intentionally get into your trash.
  • Place this mixture into a sealable bag, empty can, or other container that will prevent leakage.
  • Throw the container into your trash.
Can I throw away my used insulin needles, syringes, or other testing supplies?

It is unsafe to throw away needles into the trash, as these items can injure sanitation workers or others. Sharps containers can be purchased at your local pharmacy or online and will come with instructions for disposal.

If you do not have access to a sharps container, New York State law does allow for home disposal of insulin needles, syringes, and other testing supplies. However, local laws might prohibit this, so you should check with your local Department of Public Works.

These items can be disposed of at home using the following steps:

  • Collect sharps using a puncture proof plastic container with a tight fitting screw top. Soda bottles and laundry detergent bottles are great options. Avoid using glass containers or coffee tins.
  • Label the container clearly with “contains sharps,” and keep them away from children.
  • When the container is full, screw the cap on tightly and seal it with duct tape to be extra safe.
  • The container can then be thrown out in the trash. Do not put sharps in the recycling bin.
Is it ok to take expired medication?

Using medications beyond their expiration date is not recommended and can be harmful. Over time, the chemical ingredients in medications can break down or form other ingredients, which changes the drug. The expiration date given to the medication is based on testing by the manufacturer and guarantees both safety and efficacy of the medication.


What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and methadone. Heroin is an illegal opioid. Opioid medications are used to treat moderate to severe pain after an injury or surgery, or for medical conditions such as cancer. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the prescribing of opioids without fully understanding the long-term risks or effectiveness of these medications.

Are opioids dangerous?

Opioids work on certain pain receptors in the body and do a great job at blocking pain. Over time, these receptors become tolerant to the medication, and so the doses need to be increased. The most dangerous side effect of opioid medications is an overdose, which can cause trouble breathing and may be life threatening.

Other side effects of opioids include withdrawal symptoms if the medication is stopped suddenly and without a physician supervised withdrawal plan, increased sensitivity to pain, constipation, confusion, sleepiness, and dizziness.

When prescribed for a short time period for an acute injury or after surgery, opioids can be taken safely.

What is naloxone?

Naloxone (Narcan) is the antidote for an opioid medication overdose. Naloxone is used if there are opioids in the patient’s body and the patient stops breathing or is too sleepy to respond. Naloxone only works for a short amount of time.

Where can I get naloxone?

It is recommended that if you or someone you know takes prescription opioids, or uses heroin, that you access a naloxone kit. Kits are available through the New York State Department of Health or at your local pharmacy, with no prescription required. Information can be found nyc.gov.

If you are a patient at the NewYork-Presbyterian Emergency Room and would like a naloxone kit, please ask your provider or nurse. We will provide a kit to you at no cost.

What else do I need to know about naloxone?

More information about naloxone can be found on nyc.gov.

How do I get my prescription filled if I do not have insurance or if my insurance does not cover prescriptions?

If you cannot pay for a prescription that you will need in order to be discharged from the Emergency Room, your healthcare provider will refer you to a care manager or social worker to discuss your options. These options may include prescription assistance and savings programs as follows:

Prescription Assistance Program

This discount program may be available for the medicine that has been prescribed. Check with the following websites or contact the drug company directly.  

Prescription Savings Clubs

Some stores have prescription savings clubs for individuals who do not have insurance or if insurance does not cover all of their prescriptions. Members are eligible for special discounts on many brand name and generic medications or reduced co-pays when using their savings club card. The rules for the programs and the drugs they carry are different for each store. Some stores will have a membership fee.

Below is a list of some of the programs available or you can check with your local pharmacy to see if they offer a savings program.