Medication Management

I was speaking with a cousin recently and he mentioned a dangerous situation that arose when he took a medication that interacted with another medication he had been taking for a long time. The two drugs combined and put him into a stupor while he was cooking supper—resulting in a large kitchen fire that could have killed him or spread throughout the apartment complex in which he lives.

As we age, it’s not uncommon for the number of prescription and over-the-counter medications we use to grow. This increase in types of drugs heightens the chance of harmful side effects or drug interactions. In addition, our bodies change as we age. A medication that we can take in our fifties might start causing difficulties when we’re in our sixties. Certain medications are known to increase the risk of falling. With this in mind, medications should be reviewed periodically to ensure that they are helping rather than hurting us.

The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers four safety tips for medication management.

  1. Take medicine as prescribed, with input from your health care provider.
    Make sure you understand the instructions on how often and how much medication to take. If you find you’re experiencing bothersome side effects, contact your provider immediately.
  2. Store your medicines properly and check expiration dates.
    Medications that are not stored properly may not work or may cause harm. Make sure to understand how to properly store them. Expired medications may become weaker and ineffective. But, over time, a medication may change chemically and become dangerous. If you need to dispose of any medications, contact your local Council on Aging or Police Department. Oftentimes, these organizations can sometimes make arrangements for the safe disposal of medications.
  3. Be aware of potential medication interactions and side effects.
    Make sure to discuss all medications—both prescription and over-the-counter—with your health care provider. Pay close attention to the instructions on the medication packaging. Certain medications should not be taken with some everyday foods. For example, grapefruit can cause dangerous side effects when eaten along with certain drugs.
  4. Keep a medication list.
    Write down every medication you take—both prescription and over-the-counter—and keep this list up to date. Let your emergency contact person know where they can find this list in case of an emergency. Take this list to every doctor appointment—especially if you see multiple practitioners. It’s critical for all of your doctors to know all of your medications. In addition, it’s very important to be honest with your doctor about your alcohol, marijuana, or illegal drug usage.

There are a variety of products that can help you to manage your medications safely. There are the daily pill boxes that have been around for years. Some pill boxes now will partner with a cellphone app to remind the user when it’s time to take their medications. There are special machines that can be loaded and programmed to dispense the correct medication at the right time. There is special packaging that can provide packets of medication that are labeled with the date and time to take the medications in each packet. Smart-home devices (i.e., Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, etc.) can be programmed to remind a person to take their medications at the correct time—even if the correct time is at 3am.

These devices and services can be very helpful, but make sure you understand how they work. If you have a fully-loaded device and your doctor changes your dosage or cancels the prescription—what happens? Does your health insurance cover this type of medication delivery? If the device is electronic, what happens when the power goes out?