The Dangers of Prescription Drugs
January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
In recent years the number of deaths attributed to prescription drugs has outnumbered deaths caused by cocaine and heroine combined. While many of these fatalities are due to heavy duty painkillers, it is still a very real reminder of how dangerous prescription drugs can be if not used correctly.
For seniors the concern of medications whether they be prescription or over-the-counter, is very serious considering that as we age we tend to take more and more pills. When multiple medications with multiple directions are the norm, the possibility of overdosing, missing a dosage, drug interactions and side effects becomes very real.
I was recently on a visit to an elderly family member’s home where a husband and wife happened to be sorting their medication for the week. Both have several prescriptions between the two of them. The wife was reading the labels and giving the pills to the husband to place in the weekly pill sorters. At one point, I heard the husband remark, “I know it says once daily, but I’m supposed to take two daily.” Thankfully the squabble was resolved with a simple phone call to the doctor, but you can easily see how a head strong senior can overdose on a medication.
Another problem with medications may be the color of the pills. Our ability to see colors may diminish as we age, making it hard to tell pills apart from one another. An Ohio State University College of Pharmacy researcher has found that seniors have an increased difficulty telling pills apart based on color alone. This is one reason why it is important for caregivers to help sort and/or administer daily medications if eyesight is a problem.
Many times the first thing we do when we get a prescription at the pharmacy is toss out all of the literature that comes with the medication. However, it is essential that seniors understand the medications they are taking, especially the side effects and harmful drug interactions. Depending on your medication, there may also be possible food/drug interactions. For example you should not drink grapefruit juice with certain blood pressure medications, and you should stay away from dairy products depending on which antibiotic and/or anti-fungal medication you are taking.
It is not uncommon for seniors to be taking several different drugs from different doctors. Unfortunately this can lead to a problem known as prescription cascading. Cascading happens when a doctor adds a new medicine to treat a symptom that may result, not from a medical condition, but from the side effect of another drug. This is why it is extremely important that all of your doctors know all of the medications you are taking. And if you feel overwhelmed by the amount of prescriptions you are taking, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor if you can reduce your dosage or even stop one of your medications before adding another one to the mix.
One tip from the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, is to carry “an up-to-date list of all the prescription and nonprescription medications you take, including herbal or dietary supplements and topical medications (ie, those applied to the skin), along with key facts about your medical history. This is particularly important if you are visiting a doctor, clinic, or other health care professional for the first time.” And if creating a list is too time consuming, try the brown bag method, where you simply bag up all of your prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and bring them to the doctor with you. A service our firm provides to our clients is called Docubank. As part of a client’s Life Care Plan with Weekly Law, the Docubank service will keep a medication list on file. If a client needs a list of their medications for any reason, they simply call an 800 number and Docubank will fax their medication list anywhere requested.
No matter how you choose to manage your medications always keep in mind that while prescriptions can be life saving necessities, they also need to be respected for their powerful and potentially deadly effects if not taken properly.
If you have any questions or concerns about caring for a family member, please contact the Law Office of Dawn M. Weekly, PC. The law firm located in Sandwich, Illinois and focuses on elder law and Life Care Planning for clients. Their office may be reached by calling 815-570-2334.