Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Talkin' Bout My Medication

(With apologies to the Who…) Medication can be a delicate subject with many people. In the U.S., there is the sense that too many pills can make you a “pill head,” something undesirable in a country that believes in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. So when it comes to admitting we need additional help, many people are loathe to admit it. There is also still a good deal of stigma surrounding medications, depending on the type. Pain medication (whether narcotic or not), psychiatric medication, and ADHD medication can call cause the medically uninitiated to raise an eyebrow. But those of us with chronic illness know, “They call it a drug cocktail because the number of pills you have to take can fill a shot glass.” How then can we keep ourselves safe?

​One way to stay safe is to stay informed. There are a number of medication websites such as,, and that provide important details about your medication. There you can learn what side-effects may accompany your medication and any drug interactions that may exist with other medications or conditions. You should also make sure to write down how often and at what doses you should take your medication, what you should do if you miss a dose, how long before you begin to notice the effects of the medication, and what you should do in case you need to stop the medication for any reason reaction (side-effects too intense, allergic reaction, dosage too strong, etc.), and how expensive the medication is if you're on a limited budget.

​Especially make sure that you take note of dosage instructions from your doctor. Transcription errors often occur, even with the best of intentions. I remember a time when I was given a powerful narcotic after surgery, one that was only supposed to be taken every 12 hours. However, someone in the pharmacy made a mistake and wrote it every 1-2 hours, which would have killed me if I’d followed the instructions on the bottle! I brought it to the attention of my doctor, and she threw a fit at the pharmacy. It was the pharmacy in her building, so she knew a lot of patients went there.

​If you are on significant narcotic painkillers, meaning doses high enough that could cause breathing complications if too many are taken, you may want to look into a counter-acting medication called Naloxone. This medication is a pure opiate antagonist, meaning it cancels out the effects of an opiate-based drug. In fact, some EMTs and police carry this drug in case they need to respond to a heroin overdose. It works just as well for accidental overdoses on opiate narcotic painkillers.

​One important medication issue is medication recalls. Even if a medication is able to pass all FDA safety checks, problems can still arise once the medication is released to the general public. This is not a new issue, but a continuing one as new medications are released to market. For example, Xarelto is used for the prevention of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in people undergoing knee or hip replacement surgery, but has been recently recalledfor a bleeding risk. If you're worried about medications you take, you can check whether there are any recall alerts through American Recall Center's database. You can also personalize alerts to be sent to you if any medication you take should ever be recalled through their Patient Safety Alerts.

​Another medication issue is disposing of unused medication. It once was the case that pharmacies could not take back medication for any reason, for various legal reasons. However, with the rise of discovering medications in water systems, including drinking water sources, the old “flush your unused pills down the toilet” no longer applies. Many pharmacies now have a drug disposal service with easy drop-off centers. Alternately, you can return unused medication through your doctor, who has the ability to properly dispose medical waste.

​If you’re on important life-saving medication, or have a severe medication allergy, you’ll want to have that information put on a medic-alert bracelet or necklace to inform medical personnel in case of an accident where you are unable to communicate for yourself. Other medications can be kept on a list with dosage instructions in your purse or wallet. And if you're on a medication that may require the assistance of someone else (such as an emergency shot or pill), make sure someone close to you knows when and how to administer your medication for you.

​Medications are wonderful medicine that can keep us alive, relieve our suffering, improve our performance, level our heads, and provide sleep after a hard day. They are to be respected like any tool, and are never to be abused. Like tools, we should be informed on their use and know how and when to use them, and what to do when things go wrong. We should use medic-alerts if needed and tell a companion as necessary. Through proper application and use, medications can be safe. We should stay vigilant, write down what the doctor orders, and ensure what we get from the pharmacist matches. If we have any questions, we can talk to our pharmacist or doctor, or find answers online.