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Awareness is Key to Medication Safety

“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…in a most delightful way,” sang Mary Poppins to the children in her charge.

Fortunately, adults rarely need a sweetener to convince them to take their medications, but wouldn’t it be helpful to have a Mary Poppins in our lives to help us keep track of the medicines we take, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, herbal preparations and supplements?

All kidding aside, to stay healthy — and safe — it’s essential to know what medications we take when they should be taken and whether combining any of them could result in a drug interaction that is problematic or even harmful.

Our bodies undergo physical changes as we age — for example, weight changes and a slower circulation system — that can affect the way medications are absorbed and used. Older adults also tend to take more medications than when they were younger, increasing the risk factor for combining medicines in a harmful way.

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has some helpful medication safety recommendations to ensure you stay out of harm’s way and receive the benefits you count on from any medicines you take.

  • Take Your Meds as Prescribed: It’s important to take your medications in the dosages and on the schedule prescribed by your health care provider. Don’t skip a dosage or stop taking a medication because you feel better without first checking with your provider.
  • Keep a Medication List: Make a list of all the prescription medications you take, and remember to include over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and herbal preparations. Include the brand name/generic name, why you are taking it, the dosage, how often you take it, and storage instructions. Update the list on a regular basis and take it with you to all appointments.
  • Read the Label: Always read the label on the bottle or box your medicine comes in, along with any accompanying literature, as that information can alert you to possible side-effects, allergic reactions, and drug interactions. Discuss all medications with your health care provider, especially if you see multiple providers. Your pharmacist is also a good resource and can provide advice about potential drug interactions and side effects.
  • Review Your Meds with Your Health Care Provider: Ideally, you should review all medications with your provider at each visit. If that isn’t possible, consider scheduling a yearly medication review. Reviews help you and your provider determine which medicines are still necessary and appropriate and which you might be able to stop taking. A medication review is also a wonderful opportunity to discuss other concerns. For example, if the cost is a factor your provider may be able to suggest a less expensive alternative to the medicine you are currently taking. Likewise, your provider needs to know if a medicine doesn’t seem to be working or has a side effect you’re concerned about.

Other recommendations to consider to avoid and prevent problems include: sharing your medication list with a trusted family member or friend in case you have a health event in which you can’t speak for yourself; storing medications safely so that they stay out of the reach of children and pets; checking expiration dates and discarding out of date medicines; and using one pharmacy for all of your medicines so that your pharmacist can monitor your prescriptions and alert you to possible interactions. Additionally, never share your medications with other people or take medications that weren’t prescribed for you.

Remember, there are no stupid questions when it comes to your health care and the medicines you take. Ask questions when you don’t understand something, or take along a friend or family member who can ask on your behalf. You are your own best advocate for getting the care you need.

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