Prescriptions for Pill Safety

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December 4, 2013


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This post is available in: Spanish

It’s easy!  Take this Pill Quiz:

Are your doctors up to speed on the contents of your medicine cabinet?

  • Are all of your specialists informed about the types of prescription drugs on your daily to-do list?
  • Does your primary doctor know how many pills and supplements you take every day?
  • Have you built a steady relationship with your local pharmacist?

For medical safety, you should answer yes to these questions, says pharmacist Marie-Elsie Ade, Homestead Hospital’s pharmacy director.  

“Patients should bring an updated list of medications to every medical appointment. With that important step, your primary care doctors and specialists can review current dosages before adding new drugs to the mix,” Ms. Ade says.

                                               Medication Alert

Likewise, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, has issued a “medication safety alert,” urging consumers to “request a brown-bag checkup” with their physician or pharmacist. 

The Institute recommends gathering all the medications you currently take on a regular basis, along with any over-the-counter products, and showing them to your doctor or pharmacist

Similarly, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends an annual checkup for your medicine cabinet. 

                                                Dose of Prevention

The goal is to avoid harmful double doses of similar medications that could lead to accidental overdoses, addictions, unnecessary side effects and other problems created from potentially dangerous drug combinations, Ms. Ade says. 

Poisoning from drug interactions have spiked in the United States, with a five-fold increase since 1990, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To prevent potential dangers, watch out for the following when taking any medications or supplements:

Alcohol, diets and other risks: Prescription and over-the-counter medications can react negatively with alcohol, your diet, weight changes or unrelated medical conditions, such as asthma or high blood pressure, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To limit risks, supply your medical providers with a complete and up-to-date medical history, and check in with your physician if you suddenly lose or gain weight, or make dramatic changes in your diet.

Sleeping pills and painkillers: Misuse of sleeping pills or painkillers can lead to drug abuse or addiction, Ms. Ade says. Fatal, but unintentional, drug overdoses from opioid prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and  hydrocodone (Vicodin) are two times higher than fatal overdoses involving cocaine, and nearly six times higher than those involving heroin, according  to federal statistics.  

Grapefruit juice warning: Don’t wash down your pills with grapefruit juice if you are taking Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medication in the statin category. The interaction of grapefruit juice and some drugs could lead to serious complications, including severe liver, kidney and muscle damage or even death.

When grapefruit juice is consumed at or around the time you take statins, the components in that juice prevent your body’s enzyme system from breaking down the drug into usable chemicals. What’s more, the interaction prevents your enzymes from transporting the drug where needed. This causes the drug to accumulate in high amounts in the body. The toxic buildup can be very dangerous and can cause a variety of health problems.

                                           Preserve Original Packaging

Because of the above and other harmful interactions that may occur, it’s best to know what you’re taking, the frequency and dosage, and let your doctor and pharmacist know. If you can, bring your medications, in their original packaging with you to your doctor appointments. 

For elderly patients, or those who leave the hospital with several medications, home-health providers, like Baptist Health Home Care, have nurses review current medications, the physician’s instructions and related medical documents at every home visit, says Angela Andreu, R.N., clinical manager at Baptist Health Home Care.

“We want to actually look at each original container with the prescription label,” Ms. Andreu says. “It’s a continuous education and communication process with the patient, family and physician to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

                                              Rx Relationship Building

Medication safety is important for anyone who takes prescribed or over-the-counter medicines regularly. Be sure your doctor knows what you’re taking, so he or she can prescribe the right medication to avoid dangerous interactions.

Also, sticking to one pharmacy may help prevent unhealthy interactions as well.

“Get to know your pharmacist, and be sure to read both the prescription from your doctor and the label on the medication dispensed from the pharmacy to be sure they agree,” Ms. Ade recommends.

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