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Making sense of prescription medications

By The Health News Team | October 18, 2022
Women reading about prescription medication

Approximately 66% of adults in the U.S. take prescription medications. Whether they’re taken to help treat pain or other medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, questions might arise about choosing and taking prescription drugs.

Learn the answers to these four common questions surrounding prescription drugs:

  1. If I’m taking more than one medication, will they interact with one another?
    For all new prescriptions, a pharmacist will review your entire profile to determine if the new medication may interact with other medications you’re taking. It’s important to fill your prescriptions from a single pharmacy whenever possible so the pharmacist has a complete picture of what is currently prescribed to you. This allows them to check for interactions or duplicate therapy.
    When filling medications at the pharmacy, be sure to share with pharmacy staff any medicines or supplements that you are taking. The pharmacist can help you understand the effect that over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements have when taken with prescription medications and provide education on potential interactions.
    “It is helpful to create a list of your medications and allergies and carry it with you,” says Ali Zanial, Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s director of Pharmacy. “That way, you never have to guess if your pharmacist asks.”

  2. Is it necessary to take all of the medicine prescribed to me?
    Abruptly stopping prescribed medications can be dangerous. “There’s a variety of reasons why someone may stop taking the medication prescribed to them, including experiencing side effects or feeling better after a short time,” Zanial says. “However, it’s critical that patients consult with their medical provider or pharmacist before stopping a medication.”
    If cost is a factor in continuing a medication, there are options to help. According to Zanial, the pharmacy team can work with the patient to find programs to help with the cost of copays. “We never want anyone to feel as though they must choose between the medication they require or other basic needs,” he says.

  3. Is there a difference between brand-name and generic medications?
    The short answer is “no,” Zanial says. “People see ads on television showing the brand-name medications to treat a variety of conditions. But the reality is most brand-name and generic medications can be interchangeable.”
    Generic medications are just as safe as brand-name medications and must undergo the same testing before being approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Generic options have the same active ingredients as brand-name versions but may have minor differences in the inactive ingredients.
    However, it is important to know that certain medications, including those used to control seizures, should be prescribed as written by the medical professional and not substituted with generic brands. Pharmacy teams work closely with medical professionals to ensure patients have the medication they need.

  4. How can I dispose of prescription medications that are expired or I no longer need?
    There are numerous ways to safely dispose of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that are expired or deemed no longer needed by your doctor.
    For example, designated drug takeback locations will collect your unused medicines and destroy them to prevent misuse by others. Before dropping off medications, be sure to remove all personal information on pill bottle labels. In San Diego County, several police stations are designated as drop-off sites for unused or expired prescription medications.
    If accessing a drop-off location is not an option, the FDA offers other solutions to dispose of unused medication, including flushing certain medications in the toilet or disposing of others in your household trash. To help protect the environment, it’s important to learn what option is best based on the medication you have, as only a small list of medications should be flushed.
    According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, two-thirds of teens who misused pain relievers in the past year say they got them from family and friends, including from their home’s medicine cabinets. Disposing of unused medication is key in helping reduce the likelihood of it falling into the hands of those it was never intended for.

“It’s important that patients feel empowered to take an active role in their care, including being familiar with any medications they are prescribed,” says Zanial. “Your health care team wants you to feel safe speaking up if you’re confused about prescriptions or if something just feels ‘off’.”

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