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June is Medication Safety Month

By Dr. Belinda Lear, Primary Care Provider at Summit Pacific Healthcare Clinic

Medication safety is an important topic that we as providers and patients often overlook. While we often focus on why we should take medications, we need to be aware of the potential adverse effects from medicine, which can include: allergic reactions, side effects, overmedication, medication errors and abuse.

Did you know?

  • 82% of American adults take at least one medication and 29% take five or more.
  • Medication adverse effects cause more than one million emergency department visits and 280,000 hospitalizations each year.
  • The United States spends $3.5 billion each year for medical costs related to adverse effects from medication.

Unfortunately, the people who are most likely to be harmed by medicines are the children and elderly in our community. Children are often seen in emergency departments for accidental medication poisoning. More than 80% of the time, it happens when an unsupervised child has found and consumed medication. Older children have a higher percentage of non-accidental medication poisoning as well.

Adults over the age of 65 are also prone to medication adverse effects because they tend to be on numerous medications, which increases their risk of drug interactions. This group also experiences more side effects because their liver and kidneys may not be working as well as before. Common medications that cause harm in the elderly include blood thinners (i.e. warfarin), diabetes medication (i.e. insulin), seizure medication (i.e. phenytoin) and heart medication (i.e. digoxin).

The good news is we can take a few simple steps to make sure we are safely taking medications and help protect our loved ones.

What can I do at home?

  • Keep your medicines safe from children and pets.
  • If you have any controlled medications (i.e. opioids, benzodiazepines, etc.), keep them locked up and out of sight.
  • Periodically go through your medications and remove expired medications as well as any medications you are no longer taking.
  • Do not throw your medications away in the trash, contact your local police department and ask how the best way to properly dispose of your medications.

What can I do at the clinic or pharmacy?

  • Always bring a list of your medications or bottles and/or boxes to your appointments.
  • Tell your provider and pharmacist about any herbs or supplements you are taking, as they could interact with your medications and cause adverse effects.
  • When picking up a new medicine, ask the pharmacist about potential side effects and any possible drug interactions with your current medications.
  • Ask your provider to review your medication list.
  • Review how you are supposed to take your medicines and what they are for.
  • Keep up with any blood tests recommended by your provider.
  • Feel free to ask questions!

As a society, we are more reliant on pharmaceuticals to help support our health. Some advances, such as antibiotics and insulin, have revolutionized the healthcare field and helped people live longer and better lives. However, it would be unrealistic for us to expect a pill to solve all medical issues. As healthcare providers, we are guilty of this as well, we tend to add medications to treat side effects of other medications. We need to do a better job helping you understand what your medications are for, determining if you really need them, and what effective alternatives might be available to you.

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