I'm a Pharmacist and Never Do This With Your Medications
Prescription medication can improve quality of life for people with a variety of chronic health conditions, but that also comes with a great deal of responsibility – as well as some risk – especially for seniors. That responsibility puts pressure on patients, who could forget to take their medications and may struggle with getting prescription refills or affording medication. Mismanaging prescription drugs can also turn into substance abuse, which often can be life-threatening.
As a pharmacist, I've seen firsthand how many individuals struggle to manage their daily medications. But as part of a dedicated care team, I've also had the opportunity to work directly with patients to teach them about the medications they are taking and help them take control of their chronic conditions. Read on to find out things you should never do with your prescription drugs.
Don't Forget to Talk to Your Doctor
One reason a patient fails to take medication as prescribed is simply that the directions are unclear. In fact, a recent study found that at least 50% of patients leave their doctors' clinics because it's unclear what exactly physicians explained about their treatment. Also, medication side effects can lead some patients to avoid taking their medication. Both of these problems can be resolved by improving communication with your doctor.
I recommend my senior patients schedule regular appointments so they can alert their CenterWell physicians to any side effects of their medications and adjust as needed. Your doctor can also tell you the proper response if you forget to take a pill or accidentally take too many. At CenterWell Senior Primary Care here in Houston you can also make an appointment with your clinic pharmacist to go through your medications in more detail, and we can work with your doctor to simplify your regimen.
Don't Be Disorganized
Taking your medications consistently, at the right times, and in the right dosages, can be difficult, especially when you have to take multiple pills. According to the KFF Health Tracking Poll in 2019, nearly nine out of ten seniors (89 percent) report currently taking prescription medicine, including more than half (54 percent) who report taking four or more. Using pill organizers can help you keep track of which pills you need to take each day and when to take them, decreasing the risk of misuse and health complications. I advise my patients to plan out their pills for the entire week in advance. This also allows them to see when a prescription is running low and order a refill with ample time.
Don't Forget to Set Reminders on Your Phone or Calendar
A recent study stated 40-50% of people do not take medications to manage chronic conditions as prescribed, which is alarming because medication nonadherence can lead to further complications that could become life-threatening. To prevent these medical flare-ups, it's helpful to develop a routine for taking your pills. I tell my patients to set reminders on their phones, calendars, or another place that they look regularly to ensure they take their medications at the right time. It also helps to have a family member, caregiver, or trusted friend who can remind you and keep you accountable.
Don't Let Transportation Issues Get in the Way
Do you take medications regularly but struggle to get transportation to the pharmacy? You're not alone. Many of my senior patients have challenges with transportation. That's why at CenterWell Senior Primary Care, we offer pharmacy services in the same facility as our primary care and behavioral health services. That way you can visit your doctor and pick up a prescription in the same visit.
Another good option to consider is home delivery for your prescriptions. With most mail-order pharmacies filling prescriptions in larger quantities, refills are less frequent than traditional prescriptions. Also, by ordering from home online or over the phone, you can save both time and money.
Don't Forget to Properly Dispose of Prescription Medications
Is your medicine cabinet full of unwanted or expired medications? It's time to clean them out! It can be harmful to keep medications that you no longer use in the house because they can lead to substance abuse or even overdose. No one thinks it will happen to them or their loved ones, but nearly 1 million adults aged 65 and older live with a substance use disorder, and according to the CDC, overdose deaths from opioids increased to 75,673 in the 12-month period ending in April 2021, up from 56,064 the year before.
Also, expired drugs should always be thrown out, as they can be less effective, which is dangerous for serious medical conditions. For example, a sub-potent antibiotic may fail to treat an infection, resulting in serious illness and more antibiotic resistance. Some are even more risky to consume because of a change in chemical composition.
To properly dispose of prescription medications, I recommend people take advantage of National Prescription Drug Take Back Day coming up on April 30, 2022 by locating a nearby collection site. If disposing of drugs at home, I tell patients to follow all FDA guidelines on drug disposal by checking the FDA flush list for which medications they can flush down the toilet and which should be disposed in the trash by mixing with other approved substances.
Amy Kelleh, PharmD, BCGP, is a Lead Integrated Clinic Pharmacist at CenterWell Senior Primary Care.