Indian River County Extension Service
                                     1028 20th Pl, Suite D
                                     Vero Beach, FL 32960

Judith A. Wakefield
For Release: October 27, 2002                              

Medication Safety

  New drugs on the market help people live longer and be healthier - they can help control many conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.  With the use of these medications we are able to live with greater independence while coping with potentially disabling conditions.  There can also be problems with these new medications.

  It is estimated that the average senior citizen uses four point five prescription medications and two over-the-counter medications at the same time.  This puts them at risk for medication-related problems.   

  Senior citizens often go to more than one doctor and the doctors may not be aware of what the other doctors have prescribed.  This can result in a combination of medications that do more damage than good.

Mild adverse drug reactions such as confusion, drowsiness, and loss of coordination may be mistaken for a common consequence of aging and not as a result of medications. Itís more serious that twenty eight percent of hospital stays for senior citizens are drug related, eleven percent were due to not following directions for medications and seventeen percent were related to adverse drug reactions. 

  There are a couple ways this can be avoided.  One good way is to prepare a chart of all medications you are taking.  The chart should include the name of the medication, whether it is prescribed (and who prescribed it) or over-the-counter, what you are taking it for,  when you take it, how much,  when you started taking it and any adverse reactions you have had.  The chart should include all prescription medications, all over-the-counter medications, herbal products, vitamins and minerals and any other food supplements.  This should be shared with every doctor you go to and with your pharmacist.  This paints a much clearer picture of what you are taking than just what that one doctor prescribed.  The doctors can prescribe medications that do not have adverse reactions with medications you are already taking.

  Use only one pharmacy to have all your prescriptions refilled. All your prescription medications will be on his/her computer and the pharmacist can catch medications that are not compatible.  This can help avoid a lot of problems. The pharmacist will  not be aware of over-the-counter medications, herbal products and vitamins and minerals the person is taking unless you share your medication chart with him/her.  Try to visit the pharmacy when it isnít very busy so you can talk to the pharmacist.

Many people think that over-the-counter medications, herbal products and vitamins and minerals  are harmless and canít cause problems.  Some over-the-counter medications were prescription drugs at one time and can be dangerous in combination with the wrong other medications.  Some herbal products can have adverse reactions in combination with the some prescription and over-the-counter medications. Your physician and pharmacist can help you avoid these problems.

  Doctors and pharmacists are very busy and may not take the time to answer questions unless you insist. Itís up to you to get the answers to questions that can help you take medicines safely.  The inserts in medicine containers are printed so small that many people donít even try to read it and find out about what they are taking.  Ask your doctor the name of the medicine and what it is supposed to do.  Find out how much you should take and when.  Ask about possible side effects and when and how you should take the medication - on a empty stomach, full stomach, etc?  Ask if anything should be avoided while you are taking this medication - alcohol, certain foods, etc.  Ask when you should discontinue taking it and what you should do if you miss a dose.  Make notes to remind yourself. Make sure you know exactly how you are supposed to take the medication and what for.  If you donít get the answers from your physician or his/her staff, ask your pharmacist.  You can also ask if there are generic equivalents to the prescribed medicine  save money. 

  It is important to take medicines as directed and on schedule.  If you canít read the print on a medication bottle ask the pharmacist to use a larger font when he/she prints the label.  Make a chart of what you are supposed to take, how much and when.  Check off when you have taken each dose.   

  Do not take medicines with alcohol, grapefruit juice, milk or with sodas.   Read the labels.   Acid content can change how medicines, especially time release medications,  will be absorbed.

  Where should you keep your medications?  Although it is handy to keep them out where you can see them, they keep better if stored in a cool, dry and dark place.  Make sure they are out of reach of children.  The heat and humidity in a bathroom or kitchen can change the composition of medications, especially if you leave the lid off for easy access.   Keep your chart out where you can see it to remind yourself to take your medications but store the medications in a cool, dry and dark location.  One handy place to keep the chart is to tape it to a kitchen cabinet door - right at eye level.

  Make sure you keep your medicines in the original containers and never mix several together in one container, unless you use the pill boxes with cubby holes for each day.

  Never stop taking medicines before they are used up unless the doctor approves, and never take medications that were prescribed for someone else.

  Finding out all we can about the medications we are taking to keep healthy and being methodical in taking them as prescribed can help us feel better and avoid complications that can be dangerous to our well-being.

  The chart described above is available free of charge from the County Extension Service located  in the County Administration Annex at 1028 20th Place in Suite D.