Did I ever tell you about the time that I was diagnosed with hallucinations caused by psychosis? Yep. Totally happened. Except that it wasn’t. I have a complicated medical history. It was being caused by a medication. At one time, I was being treated for severe chronic pain and injuries from a car accident as well as the worst flare-up of my Crohns disease that I’ve ever had. I was even on one medication that was considered a chemo-therapy drug (although I’m sure I must have been on a low dose because I suffered no side effects from it). That’s when I received some important lessons on prescription safety that I’d like to share with you.
Prescription Safety – What You and Your Family Need to Know
1. If you have multiple doctors, be sure to question them about drug side effects and possible interaction of anything they prescribe.
Carry your list of current medications with you to every appointment and make sure that they update their records each time. Our pharmacy provides us with a print-out of prescriptions filled. It only goes back just as far as there is room to print it on the paper but I’ve found that I can ask for a full list going back several months if needed. You may just need to give them a bit of notice.
2. Even once you’ve asked your doctor about your prescription, ask to speak to the pharmacist about it too.
Ours does “prescription counselling” anyway where they go over all of the details of the drug with you. They also check your prescription history but it doesn’t hurt to ask any questions you might have as well. I’ve had pharmacists catch medication interactions that doctors had missed before! Oh and be sure to let your doctor and pharmacist know about any over the counter drugs and supplements that you take too!
Many drug stores have implemented online prescription renewal. This is a really convenient service but if any new medications have been added to your regime, I think it’s best to head in store to have a face to face conversation with the pharmacist. Pharmacists are an important part of your health team and I find they are often underused. Your doctor is the expert in diagnosing you. But your pharmacist has more day to day expertise in the medications themselves.
3. While still in the pharmacy, double check the label.
Be sure it is clearly legible and be sure that it has YOUR name on it. I was actually handed my step-mother’s medication once because the clerk only glanced at the last name and figured since it’s not a common name, it must be mine. If you have had this drug before, it’s a good idea to glance at it while still in the store too. If it doesn’t look the same (size, colour, etc) as the previous time, ask the pharmacist about it. The manufacturer may have changed the appearance of the medication or your pharmacist may have switched you to a generic one. (Mine always asks first before doing that but not all do!). Mistakes can be made though and you need to be sure you are being given the drug you were prescribed!
4. If you have issues with your hands, arthritis for example, be sure you can open the bottle before you leave the store.
Most stores have alternate bottles that are much easier to use. They’ll happily put it in those as long as you don’t have any small children at home.
5. Be sure to come up with a system for ensuring that you take your medications when you’re supposed to.
Accidental overdoses happen! If you’re having problems with keeping track of your meds, talk to your pharmacist about this. They can point out pill boxes that are labelled by day and time – some even come with alarms! Or you can set alarms on your phone. There are more tips on remembering to take your medication here. My pharmacy even offers 7 day blister packs for your prescriptions. All of your drugs are prepackaged for you by day and time so you don’t even have to try to organize that on your own!
6. If you’re finding it difficult to take your pills, don’t cut or crush them without checking with your pharmacist first.
Don’t open up capsules either. The capsule part is specially designed to dissolve at a certain rate (time released). This can reduce the effectiveness of the drug and can even be dangerous in some cases. If you mention these problems to your pharmacist, they can often come up with the same medication in another form – smaller pills, liquid, and so on.
7. Be sure to store your medication in an appropriate location.
If you have children in your home (or grandchildren who visit), be sure that it is stored out of reach and preferably under lock and key. Kids can be very determined and climb to get to something that you think is impossible. Heat, air, and light can all damage medication. The moisture in the bathroom generally makes it one of the worst places to store your meds. Other than when putting it into one of those weekly pill organizers, keep all medications in their original bottles. For more tips on safely storing medication, check out this article.
8. Dispose of unused medications safely.
All of our drugstores will take back unused drugs and dispose of them safely for you. Check yours and see if they offer the same service. Do not put them in the trash or flush them down the toilet.
9. If you are seeing multiple doctors, see if one of them will serve as your case manager.
This helps ensure that there is one central person responsible for overseeing your treatments and medications so that none will interact dangerously and so that nothing falls through the cracks.
10. If your doctor wants to prescribe a medication that is not within their usual specialty, ask them to refer you to a specialist for a second opinion.
This, along with having a case manager, is what finally made it clear that I was not schizophrenic and did not have psychosis. (Seriously, ask my daughter about the time I was trying to give treats to the puppy on the TV commercial). I was hallucinating because I was given a drug I should never have been given. And because of it, I had been placed on several completely unnecessary medications as well. Thankfully, the medications’ effects were completely reversible but that is not always the case.
Finally, if you are having any memory issues, be sure to get someone else to help you keep your medical history, appointments, treatments, and medications organized. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness! When I had multiple medical issues all flared up at the same time, it was overwhelming. So many doctors, so many things being explained to me. Having another person as my “wing man” on this was invaluable. Using all resources available to you is one of the smartest things you can do.