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Medication Management Can Be Challenging

June is National Safety Month and gives us a chance to take a fresh look at how we handle prescription medications. This is an area where safety is critical and there are often areas where a better approach can pay dividends.

Essential Medication Safety

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips to prevent injuries resulting from improper use of medications:

Only take prescription medications that are prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Never take larger or more frequent doses of your medications, particularly prescription pain medications, to try to get faster or more powerful effects.

Never share prescription drugs.

Keep all prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbals in a safe place that can only be reached by people who take or give them.

Read all warning labels. Pay special attention to warnings about taking the medications with other medicines or when drinking alcohol.

Follow directions on the label when you give or take medicines.

Turn on a light when giving or taking medicines at night.

For more tips, see the CDC website: www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Poisoning/preventiontips.htm.

Multiple Conditions/Multiple Medications

Over 75% of adults 60 and older take more than two prescription drugs daily; 37% take five or more. Called polypharmacy, this situation brings added risk of adverse drug reactions, especially in older adults. When over-the-counter medications such as cough and cold remedies, aspirin, acetaminophen, etc. are added to the mix, they only serve to compound the problem as many of them interact with prescription medications.

As an example of the problems that can occur, a study published by the National Institutes of Health showed that the risk of falling increases significantly with the number of drugs used per day for middle age and elderly people taking four or more prescription drugs per day when at least one of the drugs (such as blood pressure medication) is known to increase the risk of falling.

To head off a problem of adverse medication interactions, the best approach is to have all one’s medications reconciled by a physician or pharmacist. The easiest way to do this is to place all your medications (including over-the-counter drugs) into a bag and take them along with you to an appointment with your primary care provider or a trip to your pharmacy. This is especially easy to do when all your prescriptions are filled by the same pharmacy; many pharmacists automatically look for interactions when they fill a new prescription. Another good practice is to always ask your medical professional about side effects and interactions when they are prescribing a new medication.

For an older adult who lives alone and may be confused by the medication schedule and the number of medications to be taken, a medication organizer (a special container available at nearly all pharmacies for storing scheduled doses of an individual’s medications) may be the solution for missed doses or overdosing, especially when a family member or medical professional is available to fill the compartments weekly. For an older adult who has memory issues, a medication organizer by itself may not be enough to solve the problem; many home care companies offer medication reminders as a part of their in-home services to help solve this problem.

Safe Disposal

Given the high cost of many prescription drugs, sometimes seniors are tempted to hold onto expired, untaken drugs to save money the next time they are needed or simply forget to dispose of them.  For several reasons, this is unwise. Expired medications may have lost their effectiveness and using them may allow a minor illness become a major one. Also, a medicine cabinet containing untaken and expired medications is a temptation for curious young children and teenagers who may want to experiment. The best practice is to safely dispose of expired, untaken medications.

Flushing medications down a sink or toilet or putting them in the garbage is not considered safe and is bad for the environment and water supply. Flushing should be done only if instructions with the medication call for it. A much safer alternative is community drug take-back programs. Police departments often provide facilities for safe disposal of prescription and over the counter medications. Check with your local department to see if and where this is available.

Locally, safe drug disposal drop-off is available at the Peoria County Sheriff’s Office (301 N. Maxwell Road, Bonding Lobby; 24 hours/7 days; (309) 697-8515), the Peoria Police Department (600 SW Adams Street; 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. seven days a week; (309) 673-4521) and the Peoria Heights Police Department (1311 E. Sciota Avenue; 24 hours/7 days; (609) 688-3461). Call them for more information about what is accepted.

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