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Pharmacists warn against mixing prescription meds

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nearly half of prescriptions in the U.S. are taken incorrectly, according to a 2006 survey
(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- It may sound like a simple task, but reading medicine bottle labels and instructions carefully isn't practiced by everyone.

"Some people get casual with medications, and medications are dangerous," said Jim Barnes, director of pharmacy at Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston. "They're good and can cure and correct a lot of medical conditions but when taken incorrectly or inappropriately, they can certainly cause serious harm, allergic reactions or even death."

In January, 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment. Ledger's death was ruled accidental, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications prescribed commonly for treatment and alleviation of insomnia, anxiety, depression, pain, cold symptoms and related ailments.

"People need to make sure they understand what they're taking, what they're taking it for and how it should be taken," said Ernie Moxey, pharmacist at The Medicine Shoppe in Sikeston. "As far as whether it shouldn't be taken with other prescription medications or over-the-counter medicines, that should be brought out during counseling with the pharmacist when the medicine is presented."

Nearly 50 percent of prescriptions in the United States are taken incorrectly, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis' 2006 Prescription Not Followed Survey. This costs an estimated $177 billion annually in health care costs, the National Council on Patient Information and Education said.

Ignoring dosage instructions, taking an over-the-counter medication instead of the prescription or not communicating openly with the physician or pharmacist are among the causes of the most common medication mistakes, according to a Medicap Pharmacy news release.

Even though pharmacists explain instructions for correctly taking their prescribed medicines, some consumers still don't take them like they should, said Ronnie Hamra, a pharmacist at Medicap Pharmacy in Sikeston.

It should be common sense, Hamra said, who added that some take for granted medications which are pretty potent and can have bad side effects.

Generally, an information sheet accompanies prescriptions and covers some of the basics about the medicine -- but not all the information about it, Moxey said.

In order to be safe, always follow directions on a prescription label when taking medications, Barnes suggested.

A person should pay attention to brightly colored labels on prescription containers that provide additional information on taking the medicine safely. Examples of those labels include: "May cause drowsiness," "Alcohol may intensify this effect," "Use care when operating a car or dangerous machinery."

"They're placed on there to help the patient take the medicine safely. Not everybody reads labels and that causes people to take medications incorrectly," Barnes said.

Consumers should also be careful with over-the-counter medicines, the pharmacists warned.

"Over-the-counter medications are typically regarded as mild or weak and taken for granted, and people tend to over do it and not read the instructions thoroughly. They feel like maybe it doesn't apply to them and take more than the dose that's safely recommended," Moxey said.

Over the last 15 to 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration have released a number of considerably more potent over-the-counter medications, and now more than ever, it's more important to read instructions and follow them closely, Moxey said.

"We've seen evidence of that in the number of overdoses with prescriptions -- and nonprescription medicines. And it's not just overdoses, but misuse can cause other negative effects," said Moxey, adding that was part of the problem with the recent recall of cough and cold medicines for children.

Claritin, Zyrtec, Motrin, Aleve and Prilosec are some of the more common over-the-counter medicines, Barnes noted.

"They're still medications and can cause serious side effects. Read the label carefully in order to not have side effects," Barnes said.

Too much Motrin and Aleve can lead to the development of stomach ulcers or bleeding. Consumers should adhere to the maximum dose of over-the-

counter medicines and read the directions on the bottles.

Besides telling pharmacists of other prescription and over-the-counter medicines they're taking, consumers should let them know of any herbal supplements they're taking, too, Moxey said.

"You can also have drug activity with herbal supplements and they can interact with medicines," Moxey said.

Another tip is to check with a pharmacist or doctor about drinking alcohol while taking medication to be sure it's safe, Barnes said.

If someone needs to take a dose of medication when they're sleepy or have just awakened from a deep sleep, they should be sure to double check that they're about to take the correct medication, Barnes said.

"We have had situations occur where a patient accidently grabs their husband or wife's bottle and end up taking the wrong medicine," Barnes said.

A person should take the entire prescription as ordered by the doctor unless they've developed side effects that prevent them from taking it, and then they should inform their doctor, Barnes suggested.

Don't mix medications either. Don't pour pills of one bottle into the other because it might be easy to forget which tablet treats what condition, Barnes said.

"Since a doctor prescribes medication to treat a particular medical condition and symptoms, you should not take another person's prescription medications," Barnes said.

Having all medications come through one source can help the pharmacist identify harmful interactions between multiple prescriptions, according to a Medicap Pharmacy news release. Replace expired medications; medications lose potency after the expiration date.

When getting a new prescription filled, ask the pharmacist about symptoms or side effects that usually occur with that medication, Barnes said. Keep medicines in a safe place and out of reach of children, he said.

Education and communication are key, Moxey said.

"If people understand why they're taking the medications, they'll be more apt to take it and take it the way they're supposed to. If they don't understand it, they're more likely to stop taking it too soon," Moxey said.

If they haven't asked their doctor about their concerns or don't feel comfortable, pharmacists are accessible for that purpose, Moxey said.

"No question is too stupid or embarrassing," Moxey said. "We've probably heard about all of it. That's why we're here, and we're here to address their questions in a professional manner and get an answer and resolution of their problems."