Springtime brings to mind images of delicate cherry blossoms, gentle breezes coming through open windows, and chores of storing away heavy sweaters and coats. As you clean out your closets, vacuum under all the beds, and organize the family junk drawer, it’s a good time to clean out your medicine drawer too.
You do have a medicine drawer, don’t you?
One of the most common themes across different chronic disease communities is the large number of medications and supplements we often use. Some of us might keep those medication bottles in a box, a drawer, or a pretty flowered travel bag. My bag is full of current medications, extra bottles of supplements, drugs that are used only when I need them, and prescriptions I no longer use. For the medications that I use “as needed,” there are several bottles that tend to sit around for lengthy periods of time, the medication eventually expiring.
Keeping track of your medications can be challenging, particularly if you take several for different purposes. Sometimes it can be tricky to balance convenience — having all the medication you might want on hand at any given time — with safety — clearing out all of the half-used bottles of unwanted or expired drugs. Here are six tips for managing your medications:
1. Understand your medication
Keep a master list of all medications and supplements you use and carry this list with you in a wallet or pulse. Include information detailing: name of drug; purpose of the drug; correct dosage; how, when, and how long to take the drug; drug storage requirements; any special instructions; possible side effects and drug interactions to be aware of. Your list should also include the date it was last updated.
2. Use one pharmacy
Fill your prescriptions at one pharmacy to keep complete records in one location. The pharmacist can help to protect your safety by checking for drug interactions and contraindications among your prescribed medications. You can also ask the pharmacist to check your over-the-counter drugs against your prescribed list to make sure that everything works together safely.
3. Follow directions
To ensure safety and effectiveness, follow the instructions printed on the label. Ask your doctor about how and when to take the medication and about any special recommendations. Some drugs need to be taken on an empty stomach (e.g., levothyroxine) while others are best taken with food (e.g., Tecfidera). Don’t skip doses. If you are taking an “as needed” medication, ask about how and when to take it for greatest benefit. Do not cut or crush medications that are time-released.
4. Get organized
Use a pill organizer to manage multiple prescriptions. I use two basic day-of-the-week pillboxes to prepare two weeks worth of meds at one time. Refill your pill container(s) at a regular time each week. Be sure to store medications in their original container until you are ready fill up your pill organizer. It’s a good idea to always keep at least one pill in its original container for identification purposes. After you’ve filled your weekly containers and note that there is less than a two-week supply remaining, schedule a refill or ask for a new prescription.
Note: Do a quick pill count prior to any doctor visit so that you know ahead of time to request a new prescription if you need one.
5. Be consistent
Try to take your medication at the same time every day, preferably at a time you are almost always home. Store your weekly pill container in a visible location so that you are less likely to forget to take the medication. There are several mobile applications that help you keep track of medications; one I particularly like is CareZone, which can also alert you when you need to refill a prescription.
6. Clear the clutter
Watch for expiration dates. Discard any medication that has expired or has no label. Medications that have expired may not work as intended. If you need to replace expired medication, contact your physician for a new prescription. Prevent excess medication from building up; if your medication is on automatic refill, but you no longer use it, contact the pharmacy to put future refills on hold until you need them.
Each year the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners team together to collected unwanted medications. This year’s National Rx Take-Back Day is scheduled for April 29, 2017, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at a location near you. Last year, 893,498 pounds of unwanted medicines were collected at almost 5,400 sites across all 50 states.
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Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.