Safe Medication Management
Managing medication is all about knowing what, how, and when is the best way to take a medicine to have the best outcome. In addition, it’s important to understand why you’re taking medicine and what you should expect to happen when you take it. For example, many medications can act like poisons causing death if taken incorrectly or have side effects with potentially life-long consequences if a person has other conditions or takes other medications along with it. Knowing those facts can mean the difference between life and death for you. Therefore, before starting a new medicine, it’s important to learn about it and how it interacts with your other medications, the foods you eat, and the medical conditions you have. Medication management is all about managing the impact of your medications against all the other influencing factors of your life so that the least amount of harm occurs and the greatest benefit is received.
Is it safe to take the medication as prescribed?
Do you ever read the information that comes with a new prescription? If not, make it a practice to start doing so.
Many of us trust our doctor or pharmacist to know what medications we take and warn us to pick up on a problem if we start a new medicine that might interfere with what we already take. We expect them to catch allergies, remember our sensitivities, and connect the dots to our medical history of long ago, where we once broke out in hives. We expect too much.
Keeping up with medical history and needs is our responsibility, not theirs. We need to speak up and say if we have allergies, sensitivities, or hives when eating peanuts. Ask questions if you don’t understand what you read. If you’re uneasy, ask questions and get your answers before taking medicine. Taking the time to make sure it’s safe to take it is important because once you swallow that pill, the body begins to absorb the chemical, and it’s too late to take it back.
Know Your Allergies
When explaining your allergy history to your doctor, be prepared to describe what type of reaction you have rather than just saying you’re allergic to something. “Allergic reaction” represents all types of reactions, from the ones that are annoying to the life-threatening ones.
Sometimes what a person describes is not an allergic reaction but a drug sensitivity instead. For example, they experience nausea or diarrhea after taking a medicine or maybe some other physical discomfort that comes on hours later and hangs on for a while. Usually, that reaction is not an allergy but is a drug sensitivity or intolerance instead of depending on how severe the symptoms may be.
Allergic reactions are life-threatening situations characterized by an immune system response to a substance. Symptoms start immediately or within a few hours of exposure and range from mild wheezing to difficulty breathing, a rapid, weak pulse, and anaphylaxis shock. Individuals at risk for anaphylaxis shock must always carry an epinephrine injection with them. If you have an allergy to a medication, know both the drug’s generic name and the brand name you often use.
Doctors usually talk about medicines using the generic name rather than the brand name because brands change based on which pharmacy you use. The generic name, however, never changes. The name the chemist gave the drug when first created in the lab is based on a relationship to its chemical family. That’s why similar drugs often sound alike and look alike in spelling.
The similarity in spelling and sound is not the only similarities; however, they also react alike. Therefore, if you are allergic to a drug like penicillin, you usually cannot take a drug from the same family without having an allergic reaction to it, too. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, but it’s rare. That being the case, it is not advisable to do it.
Drug Intolerance and Sensitivities
While not life-threatening, sensitivities and drug intolerance can be very unpleasant. Food or drug intolerance can be mild or severe, and you may decide to take or avoid a medication based on prior reactions. If you believe your reaction might be severe, you may still want to avoid taking the medication unless there is no alternative treatment.
If you have a sensitivity to a substance, your immune system doesn’t get involved; however, you have an exaggerated response to the medication you take far beyond the usual. So while there is no immune response, you still have lots of symptoms and get very sick. Some of the issues can become life-threatening, especially in circumstances where exposure to a substance happens frequently.
Intolerance means that the person’s body cannot tolerate certain ingredients due to not producing certain enzymes in enough amounts to allow easy digestion of foods eaten. The result is unpleasant and uncomfortable side effects, such as nausea, bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Food and Drug Interactions
Another complication that can occur happens at mealtime. Sometimes foods counteract or enhance the effectiveness of a drug. For instance, people who use heparin or other blood thinners need to be careful about eating greens. Some of those greens make the blood thinner not work. Also, many people use herbs and spices as medicines. If you use them in cooking, they may impact your medications. In general, if you use an excessive amount of any food, perfume, dietary additive, or other chemicals, check out what the long-term side effects might be in deciding if you want to stay on them for a long time.
Using Left-Over Drugs Can be Dangerous
Another safety concern related to drug effectiveness is those leftover drugs we all keep in our drug cabinets. Most of us tend to keep whatever is leftover from a prescription in our drug cabinet in case we might need it later. Who knows? It might be helpful to have an extra Tylenol with Codeine on hand if I sprain an ankle, right, or some Keflex if I start running a fever? Could save me a trip to the doctor. I would venture to say that in most homes in America, we could find leftover meds for most household members all mixed up together with various expiration dates. Before you take something off that self to use, let me caution you on a few things.
- Medications lose their potency (i.e., how well they work) over time. In addition, as they get older, their effectiveness becomes less predictable. Therefore, if you take a medicine and combine it with something else, it’s impossible to know the total amount you’re taking between the two making it easier to overdose.
- Leftover narcotics and stimulants are incentives for crime since it’s an easy drug score with minimal risk, usually for the criminal. Teenagers especially check medicine cabinets for extras both for their use and making extra money.
- Multiple prescriptions representing different age groups, doses, strengths, and expiration dates probably exist in your medicine cabinet. “More” is not always better when it comes to drugs because more could result in a toxic dose if it’s too much for the liver, kidneys, or lungs to manage.
Find Accurate Information About Your Drugs
Want to find out about one of your medications? Have questions about the possible side effects of one of the herbs or supplements you’re taking? Find answers at NIH’s National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus website. You can look up any drug, herb, supplement, over-the-counter medication, etc., you might take and get accurate information whenever you need it.