7 Ways to Manage Prescription Medications

When you were a child, chances are high that getting you to take medication - whether it was a chewable multivitamin or a prescription antibiotic - involved lots of begging, and maybe even some bribery.

As an adult, taking a prescription might not seem like quite as big of a deal. And if you're like more than 1/2 of American adults, prescriptions aren't just for treating a stomach bug or an infection - they're a part of your everyday routine.

However, prescription medication safety doesn't end there. In order to get the most out of your medication - and keep yourself and others safe while doing so - there are several other steps to take.

Here are 7 ways to use prescription medication safely and effectively:

1. Store Medications Wisely

Your prescriptions are prescribed for you, and you alone. But if you aren't careful, someone else might help themselves - particularly if that someone else is a little one.

"Every year, about 60,000 children under age 5 are treated in emergency rooms for accidental medication overdoses - and more than 90% involve children who got into the medication on their own, without a caregiver giving it to them. This is why it's so important to keep medications where children can't reach them and make sure that you always hear the "click" of a safety cap when you close a pill bottle," says Karen Novielli, BSPharm, MBA, Pharmacy Director at Chester County Hospital.

Even if you don't have children, pay attention to how you store your medicines. Throwing them in the kitchen drawer might make them less effective. Most medications should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place. Some might need to be refrigerated, so don't forget to read the label before placing the bottle in your medicine cabinet.

You may want to keep medications in a pill box or medicine organizer so that you can keep track of whether or not you've taken them every day and avoid accidentally overdosing or missing a dose.

2. Get Rid of Them Wisely

Expired prescriptions or ones you don't need any longer don't just clutter your closet - they can also lead to serious health problems. For example, expired medications may not work as well.

Most medications can be thrown away in your household trash. However, it's a good idea to take the medication out of its original container, and pour it directly into the trash. Then, take off any identifying information on the bottle before you toss that too.

3. Don’t Stop or Alter Your Dose Without Talking to Your Provider

Stopping a medication or changing the dosage isn't always simple. Certain drugs may need to be weaned slowly. Otherwise, suddenly stopping them could cause your symptoms to come back - possibly worse than before.

If you change your dose, you could risk not getting enough for the medication to do its job. Or, you might end up taking too much and overdosing, which can cause problems such as nausea, double vision, or even coma.

Before stopping or changing a medication, talk to your provider so they can help you do so safely.

4. Don't Let Cost Stand in Your Way

It's no secret - medication can cost a pretty penny. Even with insurance, some medications can set you back thousands every year. But tricks like cutting your dose in half to make it last longer could mean your symptoms will last longer, too.

Since not taking a medication can be dangerous - and even life-threatening - it's extremely important to not let that lofty price tag stop you from filling your prescription.

Fortunately, there are ways to make prescriptions more affordable.

Prescription Medication Help 

Pennsylvania and other states also offer government assistance programs to help pay for medication.

5. Talk to Your Provider Before Using Generics

Look at the drug name on the medication bottle. If it's different than the one you normally see, it may be a generic. For example, lamotrigine is an antiseizure medication. The brand name is called Lamictal. If you get a bottle that just says "lamotrigine," rather than "Lamictal," you most likely have the generic.

"Generic medications have the same active ingredient as the original brand name, just made by a different manufacturer. Since they are much less expensive - and insurance companies often only cover generics - it's fairly common for a pharmacist to substitute your name brand medication with a generic," added Novielli.

In many cases, this won't make a difference. However, all drugs have inactive ingredients, which give them their shape, size, and color. While they don't make the drug any more or less effective, they can affect how the drug is absorbed into your bloodstream.

Because of this, one 5mg brand name pill and one 5mg generic pill could affect you differently.

This doesn't mean you can't use generics. But, talk to your provider immediately to make sure that you're still getting the best dose - especially if you have heart disease, depression, or a seizure disorder, as these conditions are often most impacted by switching to generics.

6. Double Check Your Medications Before Leaving the Pharmacy

Your pharmacist will make sure they're giving you the right medication, but you should check, too. There's always that possibility that they've made a mistake, whether it's giving you the incorrect dosage or giving the wrong medication altogether.

If you don't get a chance to check at the pharmacy, take a look at the medication at home before immediately popping a pill. If it's a medication you've taken before, make sure it's the same size, shape, and color that you usually get, and call the pharmacy if you see any differences.

That doesn't necessarily mean they made a mistake - they may have simply given you a different manufacturer of your medication - but it's still a good idea to make sure.

7. Keep a List of Your Medications With You

Certain medications don';t play well with others. One medication could reduce the effectiveness of another. Two medications could cause side effects, like rashes or stomachaches, when mixed. In serious cases, mixing certain medications can be life-threatening.

Keep a list of your medications and dosages -including vitamins, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen - and bring it with you when seeing your provider. This will help your provider make sure that they know every medication you're taking so they can check for potential interactions.

There is one other thing that's very important to remember:

"When it comes to prescription medications, always think back to that old "better safe than sorry" lesson you learned in kindergarten. If you have questions - even if you think they might be silly or strange - don't hesitate to ask. Your pharmacist and provider want what's best for you and they are always there to answer your questions," said Novielli.

Need more help managing your prescription your medications? Your primary care provider is a great place to start. Call 610-738-2300 to find a provider.

About this Blog

Chester County Hospital's Health e-Living Blog offers a regular serving of useful health and lifestyle information for the residents of Chester County, PA and the surrounding region.

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