LiveSmart: Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications – Conversations are Critical

[This piece was written by Thomas Lombardi, PharmD, FASHP, pharmacy director, St. Peter’s Health Partners.]

Cold and flu season is around the corner. So, planning ahead, while you’re at the pharmacy getting your new blood pressure prescription filled you pick up your favorite over-the-counter sinus and cold medication. Not so fast – did you know that your blood pressure medication and decongestants can be a dangerous mix?

You may not have known, but your physician and pharmacist do. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes at least one death occurs per day and 1.3 million people are injured each year due to medication errors. Many of these errors occur because patients use multiple physicians, multiple pharmacies and do not document all of their medications and the proper dosages.

Medication safety is a team effort and it starts with ensuring you are having the right conversations with your entire health care team regarding your prescription and over-the-counter medications.

As we age, it is more likely we will be prescribed additional medications; one for high blood pressure, maybe one for high cholesterol, perhaps another to help quit smoking. The more medicines you are using, the greater the chance of interactions and harmful drug effects.

In addition, physical changes can affect the way medicines are processed by the body. If your kidneys or liver are not operating at their peak, it can impact how effective a medicine will be in treating your condition, as well how the drug breaks down and leaves your body.

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines, herbal preparations, supplements, certain foods, alcohol consumption – all interact in unique ways that may not be apparent to you, but will be to your medical team. So, a good first step is to write down a complete list of all the medications you take and to carry it with you.

Your list should include the medicine’s name, dosage, directions for use (how you take it/how often you take it), and what the drug is for. Every time you receive a new medication, change a dose, or stop taking a medication you should update your list. St. Peter’s Health Partners offers a free medication safety card that you can print out for this purpose:

At each visit to your provider, you should review your list to determine if changes are necessary. If it’s not possible to review medications at each visit, schedule at least one review annually.

It is also important to remember to take your medicine regularly and according to your health care provider’s instructions. Don’t skip doses or stop taking medication without first consulting with your provider, even if you’re feeling better. Talk to your provider if you are experiencing troublesome side effects; a different medication may be available.

If you’re seeing more than one health care provider, make sure you tell each one about your medications, herbal preparations, and supplements. You also can ask your pharmacist about potential drug interactions and side effects.

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