6 Concerns for Your Prescribed Medications
What's in Your Medicine Cabinet?
A sure sign of life change can be what your medicine cabinet becomes stocked with as you get older…Instead of Scope mouthwash, denture cream…Instead of ibuprofen, rheumatoid meds…and possibly more than in previous years, an increased number of those clear, orange-ish, white-capped bottles containing everything from high blood pressure meds to heart pills…
In our new three-part series, we will be talking about What’s in Your Medicine Cabinet? with particular attention to:
- Prescriptions–Part 1 (this issue!)
- Over-the-counter–Part 2 (November issue)
- Supplements/Vitamins & Herbals–Part 3 (December issue)
What we are prescribed is, of course, specific to the individual and their particular health needs, but there are certain aspects of prescription medications that pertain to everyone, including cost, potential interactions, and the basic of storage and expiration dates.
There are two things you can always count on “going up” in life…taxes and the price of prescription medication. According to the article “Why Our Drugs Cost So Much,”¹ the cost of prescription drugs in America are the highest in the world. One of the main reasons? The United States allows drug companies to set their own prices. If you’re relatively healthy or only have to pay for an occasional prescription for a temporary illness, be prepared for “sticker shock”– even with insurance–if you develop a chronic, serious, or rare condition, warns the article.
If you have Medicare, you have access to prescription drug coverage. Just be aware that if you don’t sign up for coverage when you’re first eligible that you may pay a late enrollment penalty unless you have other creditable coverage or receive Extra Help through Medicare.
There are two ways to get drug coverage through Medicare: Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D) and Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C). The Medicare website explains Part D adds drug coverage to Original Medicare and some other plans. Part C, which is like an HMO or PPO, is available to those who already have Part A and Part B.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, your physician should discuss not only your new prescription but the potential interaction with other drugs you may be taking that have been prescribed by that doctor or others; supplements you may be taking on your own or on the advice of another doctor or health provider; and even certain food or beverages, including alcohol and milk, that you consume. In addition, various lifestyle choices can interact with certain medications, such as how much sun exposure you get each day.
Pharmacist Dr. Roger J. Accardi of Accardi Pharmacy advises asking your pharmacist to specify the use of each drug. “For example, if your prescription reads ‘take 1 tablet twice a day,’ ask what that actually means. Do you take the second dose at lunch, dinner, or bedtime?”
Accardi says that even the correct diagnosis and the correct medication could result in “disastrous outcomes.”
“A prescription for Ibuprofen to address your inflammatory pain, if taken on an empty stomach, may result in bleeding ulcers,” he explains.
Some drugs can mess with cognition and even mimic dementia. These can include anxiety and insomnia medications, corticosteriods such as prednisone, pain medications, chemotherapy drugs, and cholesterol-lowering statins.²
Potential interactions can be checked by your pharmacist. This is easier and more accurate if you fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy. Certain pharmacy websites offer a drug interaction checker, although this is a quick reference tool and doesn’t take the place of medical advice.
One online drug interaction checker says that an interaction has the potential to “change the way a drug is absorbed, metabolized or eliminated; make drugs stronger or less effective, and increase the drug’s side effects.”³
Storage, Expiration, Safety
Most of our readers live in Florida and know that the humidity and warm weather they enjoy that invite mold and mildew growth and provide a happy habitat for insects. You are probably used to keeping food and other products in the refrigerator or the coolest and driest place you can find in your home.
Although the “medicine cabinet” we are most familiar with is the one located over the bathroom sink, it’s actually not the right choice for storing medication.
What medications should you store in your medicine cabinet?
“The answer is none, if the medication is taken by mouth,” says Accardi. “Light, heat, and moisture are a pill’s enemy. They will destroy the effectiveness of oral medication way before the stated expiration date on the label.”
Accardi says that oral meds are usually intended to be stored at 50F/86F. In the bathroom, especially during a hot shower, temperatures can exceed 100 degrees with excessive humidity. In addition, lighting tends to be too intense in most bathrooms. Similarly, oral medication should not be kept near the kitchen sink. However, storage of prescription creams, ointments, lotions, and gels are fine in those places, as long as temperatures don’t routinely exceed 86F, Accardi explains.
Here are some common guidelines, but check with your pharmacist or the pamphlet that comes with your prescription for any special storage instructions such as refrigeration.
- Keep your medicine in its original pharmacy container.
- Store medication in a cool, dry location.
- Don’t set your medicine bottles anywhere that receives sunlight.
Pay attention to expiration dates, and be aware that improper storage of medication can make these dates obsolete. Check the expiration dates on prescription, over-the-counter, and supplements regularly, especially those you don’t refill or purchase on a regular basis.
“On all your medications, you should have a yearly review of the expiration dates,” Accardi says. “Personally, I set it up to do on January 1. A conservative, safe way to make that determination is to discard all medication one month prior to the stated expiration.”
Medication that is past its due date can lose its potency or degrade, which means it won’t work the way it should and could cause a risk to your health. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medications like painkillers that are just sitting in your cabinet tend to be “highly susceptible” to misuse and abuse by other people with access to your home and medicine storage.⁴
Expired meds? Proper disposal is important. According to the FDA, pills should be mixed together with substances such as coffee grounds or cat litter and sealed in a plastic bag before being thrown in the garbage. Many cities also schedule specific days when people can bring their expired medication in for proper disposal. (Although the FDA website says some meds should be flushed down the sink or toilet, others sources say this practice compromises the public water supply.) Another option is to ask your pharmacist, some of whom will dispose of prescription medication for you. Accardi is of that opinion also, he says, remove your personal label, and discard in the pill container, with some water or you can take it to Accardi Pharmacy to be destroyed.
Chances are you have children in your home on occasion. If so, it’s imperative that medications are out of reach of or locked away from small hands. Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact, too, that your medication could be improperly used by others who may have access to your home and supply of medication.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drugs are among the most commonly used drugs by 12th graders after alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. The online article “What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?” states that “the NIDA’s Monitoring the Future survey of substance use and attitudes in teens found that about 1 in 13 high school seniors reported past-year nonmedical use of the prescription stimulant Adderall® in 2015, and nearly 1 in 23 reported misusing the opioid pain reliever Vicodin®.”⁵
Virtual Medicine Cabinet
Keep a list of your most recent prescriptions and their dosages and the name, location, and phone number of your pharmacy that is easily accessible to your spouse or a close and trusted family member.
In addition, include any supplements, including vitamins, you may be taking. These should always be discussed with your doctor as some herbal and other supplements may interact with prescribed and over-the-counter medications.
This list can be life saving, especially in the event of a medical emergency. It’s also helpful to have this information handy when you’re traveling and you or a caregiver needs to quickly reference your medications. Often, as we age, the number of medications prescribed can increase, making it even more imperative to be proactive in keeping an accurate record of what you’re taking. Don’t assume your doctor or pharmacy knows everything about your day-to-day healthcare. Accardi tells patients that it is advisable to keep a medical journal of questions. For example, when do I take my meds, or can I take with grapefruit juice? Take the journal with you to your primary care physician. This will allow you time to review your questions with your doctor.
For those of you who take advantage of technology, a variety of mobile phone apps can help keep track of this information. Some have been developed by pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens to provide easy access to your records and to allow you to refill your prescriptions at the tap of a smartphone screen.
What’s in your medicine cabinet is just as important as educating yourself about your medications and how to keep yourself, and the ones you love, healthy and safe.
If you have any questions feel free to reach out to Aging Tree or any of their approved Business Partners by calling 1-866-320-8803.
Amanda Cleary Eastep is a freelance marketing writer for businesses and universities at Word Ninja. She believes words should not only inform, but also offer encouragement and hope. She blogs about faith, family and life change at “Living Between the Lines.”