I don’t know about you, but the older I get the more medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — I seem to take.
Include the herbals, which technically aren’t drugs, and it’s no wonder my wife and I have virtually filled up an entire kitchen cupboard.
So when I read a report by the American Medical Association claiming as many as half of all patients make mistakes with their own medications, my eyelids twitched. Wrong doses at wrong times or in wrong ways led the list. Drug interactions with other medications or herbal supplements were also found to be a significant problem.
According to the study, as many as 130,000 deaths and more than $8.5 billion in hospitals costs plague American pharmaceutical users, and these are just the ones that require medical intervention. Mistakes don’t just affect those of us in the varicose stage of life either. People of all ages, genders, education and occupations are making medication errors.
According to the authors, not putting your glasses on and actually reading the directions, let alone understanding them, is another common problem. It seems few of us take the time to read the supplemental information included with medications. According to researchers, most of us barely get beyond the label on the bottle.
Occasionally, physicians also make mistakes. Perhaps the dosage prescribed is wrong or should be delivered in a pill and not a liquid. Another common prescribing error is not analyzing potential drug interactions. This can occur due to a variety of mistakes, including patients not sharing all medications due to faulty memory or not realizing that herbal supplements can also affect dosing and prescribing patterns.
Ideally, each medical specialist would also serve as check on the other, meaning that when a physician prescribes a medication, the nurse would serve as a reviewer, as would the pharmacist, before filling a medication order. There is no such backup system however, when we act as our own prescriber and dispenser, as is the case with over-the-counter medications. Avoiding medication mistakes is a serious public health concern. It’s not only expensive, but potentially deadly.
Whenever you receive a prescription from your physician, you need to be told the name of the drug, and what it’s supposed to do. You also need to check how, when and for how long the drug is to be taken and review possible side effects.
Check again with the pharmacist when you have the prescription filled. If you are seeking an over-the-counter medication, consult the store pharmacists. Remember, the real drug expert is your pharmacist. While nobody can diagnosis better than your physician, he or she is not the drug expert. Using both professionals together is often the key to an effective and successful medication intervention.
Put together a list. Keep track of all of your medicines, listing both their brand and generic information. Include why you are taking the medication. Give this to your physician and pharmacist every time you time you visit them.
At home, always turn on the light and put your glasses on when taking medications. Read each bottle carefully before taking anything. Pills often look alike and are of the same size and color. If you have refills of medications, make sure you are keeping track of how many are left. Running out can be serious. When receiving a refill, if the pills look different, inquire why before taking them.
Never take a new medication, whether it be prescribed, over-the-counter or an herbal supplement, without consulting with your healthcare professional. Drug interactions can compromise existing medications as well as cause serious health complications.
As a general rule, don’t take any medication with grapefruit juice, which can interact with more than 200 medications, including cholesterol-lowering statins, sleeping pills and antianxiety agents.
Don’t leave medications in a car for prolonged periods of time. Climate extremes including moisture, light and other factors can harm medications. Consider keeping pills out of your bathroom for some of the same reasons, especially moisture.
The continued discovery of miracle drugs has significantly added to both the quality and length of our lives. We should be grateful for both. Using them wisely and in a prudent manner is paramount to our safety.