Seven Medication Safety Tips for Adults
Kimberly Reich, PharmD
Associate Vice President of Pharmacy
How many medications do you take? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 69% of U.S. adults ages 40-79 take at least one prescription medication a day and 22.4% take five or more. Medications are important to manage chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and mental health. When a person takes five or more medications a day, this is called polypharmacy. Polypharmacy can create challenges for medication compliance due to issues with any of the following: a challenging dosing schedule, confusion over medication instructions, side effects, reactions, cost, and fill/refill frequency.
Polypharmacy can also become a dangerous problem if medications interact with each other or with over-the-counter medications, supplements, alcohol, caffeine, or certain foods. It can also be troublesome if a medication is added for a symptom diagnosed as a “new condition” but is actually treating a side effect of a current medication. This is known as the prescribing cascade.
People over 65 are more at risk for adverse drug reactions as aging brings physical changes since older bodies may not be able to clear medications as quickly. This can cause medications to build to a toxic level. In fact, polypharmacy in the elderly is associated with falls, frailty, kidney impairment, hospitalizations, and death. Providers who specialize in treating older patients are trained to be more aware of proper medication dosing for this population.
Here are seven important tips to consider for medication safety:
- Keep an updated list of what you’re taking. Include medications, vitamins and supplements, along with any over-the-counter medications you may take when needed. With each entry, note both the prescription and generic name, dosage, when and how often it is taken, and why it is taken. Take this list to each provider visit and keep it updated if anything changes. Also give a copy to a trusted person for back-up. Place a “last updated” date on each copy to avoid confusion.
- Ask questions about your medications. When any provider wants to begin a new medication, ask the following questions: what the medication is for, how to take it, what side effects to look out for, anything to avoid, what happens if you miss a dose, how to know it’s working, and any other medication alternatives available if it doesn’t work well for you. Make sure your primary care provider is also aware of any new medications prescribed by other specialty providers.
- Do your research. Read the insert and instruction information and make sure to contact your provider immediately with any side effects (nausea, vomiting, dizziness, etc.) when starting a new medicine.
- Organize your medications. An easy method to stay organized when taking multiple medications is to use a weekly pill organizer. Ask a friend or family member for help if it becomes confusing. A pill organizer can also help you determine if you took the medication or not if you can’t remember. Consider using two different colored boxes, or boxes labeled “morning” and “evening” for medications taken at different times of the day.
- Use one pharmacy to fill prescriptions. Getting to know the pharmacist as part of your health care team will help you manage your medications. Ask your pharmacist about any interactions before starting any new over-the-counter medication or supplements. Your pharmacist can offer many helpful tips and work with you and your provider to help your medications work the best for you.
- Be careful with new symptoms. When you visit your provider with a new symptom, make sure to ask if any of your current medications could be causing the issue.
- Schedule an annual medication review each year to go over all medications with your primary care provider. Bring in all your medication and supplement containers so your provider is aware of everything you take. Bring in a list of questions you may have to discuss at this time. If you want to decrease the number of medications you take, have a discussion with a provider on appropriate steps to take, or find out if some medications are non-negotiable and needed indefinitely to manage your medical conditions effectively.
Medications work best when taken properly, so find a system that works for you!
HopeHealth offers two pharmacy locations. One is located at the Medical Plaza (60 N. Irby Street), and the other is located at our Pine Needles location (3380 Pine Needles Road). Both pharmacies are located in Florence, SC and have convenient hours, free delivery, drive-thru service, and affordable prescription pricing. Please visit us at either location or call 843-667-9414 for more information.