This month’s Healthy Actions topic is prescription drug safety and my expert is Dan Krinsky, a professor of pharmacy for Northeast Ohio Medical University and a former retail pharmacist. Krinsky also leads a team of NEOMED pharmacy students, who, as part of a national competition, are holding free events to help consumers check their medications and any possible interactions as well as remind consumers about the importance of taking medications as prescribed.
At a recent event at the Key Towers apartments in Stow, Krinsky looked over prescribed and over-the-counter medications and vitamins for Lynn Bell.
As he picked up each item, he asked Bell, 60, if she knew why she was taking it.
But when Bell told Krinsky that she was still having acid reflux issues, he said an anti-inflammatory prescription might be counteracting the prescription heartburn medication.
“I’d talk to your doctor to see what other options might be available to completely get rid of the symptoms,” he said.
NEOMED has two similar upcoming free sessions: March 4 from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and March 14 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Both sessions will take place outside Sequoia Wellness, 4211 State Route 44, in the NEOMED Education and Wellness (NEW) Center on the medical school’s Rootstown campus.
No appointments are necessary. Bring your medications or a list of what you take (over-the-counter, too). Students will also discuss medication adherence and heart health.
Krinsky and I also sat down and discussed the importance of prescription-drug safety:
Q: Why does it matter whether my pharmacist knows all of the things I’m taking?
A: People use multiple providers, whether it's multiple physicians or pharmacies or both. With the potential for interactions and duplications and side effects, that’s a big concern for us.
We are especially concerned about elderly patients who may be required to use mail order for chronic conditions and then if they get a sinus infection and get an antibiotic, they’re going to go to the community pharmacy. Your pharmacist should know everything you’re taking, including over-the-counter vitamins, medications and supplements, for potential interactions. Some drugs and vitamins taken together don’t work as well.
Q: Does my community pharmacy have access to mail-order prescriptions?
A: Maybe, but if it’s not in our system or you don’t tell us, we don’t know everything you’re taking and the potential interactions.
Q: Is it important for patients to go to one retail pharmacy for all of their prescriptions?
A: Yes. The nice thing about large chain pharmacies is that all data is accessible regardless of where you get it filled. We try to encourage patients to go to the same place, whether they are in Florida or Twinsburg. For people who go to different pharmacies (for different prescriptions), it’s a crapshoot because that pharmacist doesn’t know what else you’re taking unless you say.
Q: What’s the best way for consumers to keep track of their medicines?
A: That’s a huge issue — maintaining an up-to-date list and also trying to stay adherent to your regimen, to take it as prescribed. Too often the health care system lets patients down by not truly providing what the patient needs and not explaining why they are taking the medication — how is it supposed to work and what happens if I miss a dose?
Q: What are some common mistakes people make when it comes to their prescriptions?
A: Taking medications at the wrong time of day, taking it with food when it should be on an empty stomach or skipping doses when they feel OK. A good example is someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure, which is the silent killer. They tried diet and exercise and got on a prescription. They don’t feel any different or sometimes feel worse, so the person stops taking it. The blood pressure goes up, and now all the sudden you’re at greater risk.
Q: How common is it for people to “save” prescriptions in case they need it?
A: More prevalent nowadays. I did a brown-bag medication review once. It was supposed to be a lunch-bag-sized bag of prescriptions you bring in. One woman brought in a grocery bag with 67 bottles, which included her medications, supplements and medications for her husband — who had been dead for four years. She said "You never know when I’m going to need these meds."
Don’t share medications.
Q: Does medication lose its potency with time?
A: Yes. It is not going to completely lose potency, but it’s so unpredictable. It could be that it used to be an extended release and degraded and is now more of an immediate release. There’s just uncertainty.
Q: How important is it for people to dispose of medications properly?
A: Don’t flush them down the toilet or pour liquid medications down the sink or they will go into the water system. Put them in the trash with coffee grounds, kitty litter or anything that’s food waste to discourage kids or animals from taking them.
There are several places where consumers can get free prescription and medication disposal bags, including at all Acme store pharmacies. The pouches deactivate drugs by filling it with water and render the chemical compounds safe for landfills.
Free pouches can also be requested statewide at https://ohiorxdisposal.com/disposal-bag-request/
Also, even if you’ll never use them, having them around may put you at risk for a guest at your house taking your medication — and prescription-drug abuse can turn to more dangerous drug use.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Hold your health care professionals accountable. Ask your pharmacist questions. Know the names of your medications and why you take them and not just “Oh, that’s the blue one.” Granted, names are hard, so have a list handy or with a loved one.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher