Get the Most from Your Meds
CFS treatment often requires a combination of medicines and other therapies; a 2003 study by the CDC reported that CFS patients had used twice as many different drugs as non-fatigued controls. The National Academies of Science estimates that preventable medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people every year; Reuters reports the costs of medication errors to exceed $177 billion annually in the U.S. alone.
Five simple prevention measures can make a big difference in reducing the opportunity for serious medication errors to occur, and can help eliminate smaller errors that affect how well your medications work for you.
- Centralize your prescriptions. Itís tempting to stop at the nearest pharmacy on your way home after getting a new prescription, but adverse reactions and drug interactions are best monitored when you have one pharmacy filling all your prescriptions. It can also save time when refills are needed to have all prescriptions on file at the same place.
- Get to know your pharmacist. In April, researchers at the University of North Carolina reported study results that demonstrate the benefit of working with your pharmacist to avoid common medical errors. Whether you use a pharmacy at a large retail chain or a small locally owned drug store, make an effort to befriend the staff. Sometimes itís less intimidating to talk to the pharmacist about all the drugs youíre taking, including over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements and herbal remedies. While electronic records can help them track which prescriptions youíre using, the personal touch can lead to greater vigilance for allergies, drug interactions, appropriate dosages and over-the-counter product purchases that donít mix well with prescription medications youíre taking.
- Keep your own written record of what you take and why. Donít rely solely on your team of health care professionals to track your medications and dosages. They donít communicate well with one another and may not accurately note in the file if you make medication changes between appointments. Also, make sure you understand why a particular drug is being prescribed. Drug class categories can be misleading; for instance, antiepileptics are regularly prescribed for pain control and some antidepressant medications have immune effects and regulate sleep. The drug insert may not include these ďoff labelĒ uses, so itís important to talk to the prescribing provider at the time the medication is recommended. Hereís a link to a form that can help you keep track: http://www.coregcr.com/pdfs/medTracker.pdf.
- Establish a daily medication schedule. Understand exactly how and when youíre supposed to take medications, and whether there are particular combinations that should be attempted or avoided. The dosing schedule is important to maintain the appropriate blood levels of active ingredients and to avoid food or activity interactions that might weaken potency or cause other problems. Pill boxes with several compartments, a color-coding system or alarms set on the computer or clock can help you remember to take meds at the optimal time each day. This point is especially true with medications that must be tapered on and off to achieve therapeutic levels and/or prevent withdrawal symptoms.
- Take medications with water, not juice. Itís long been advised that medications not be taken with grapefruit juice because it disrupts absorption, but recently itís been reported that other juices can also cause problems. Water is the best liquid to use, and some medications (like decongestants) require you to drink lots of water with every dose. Ask your pharmacist about other drug/food/liquid interactions you should know about.
If a particular medicine is past its ďuse byĒ date or isnít working for you (and your doctor advises you to stop taking it), remember to dispose of it properly. The risk of drugs entering the soil and water through sewage systems has led to changes in the standard guidance to flush pills and syrups (although there are still some exceptions, especially for controlled substances). Now patients are advised to crush pills and mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter before discarding in the trash.
For more information: www.consumermedsafety.org is a good resource for information about how to safely take Ė and get rid of Ė medications.
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