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Medications are administered to alleviate pain, address debilitating symptoms and help cure disease – so patients would do well to take them as prescribed, right? Surprisingly many of them don’t, and the issue is a lot more complicated than you might think.
Patients may be non-adherent to their medications for various reasons, including cost and confusion, as many patients are on multiple medications. Poor medication adherence is a widespread problem – contributing to an estimated 125,000 deaths a year in the United States and leading to $300 billion in annual costs to the health system.
Jeff Thiel, PharmD, MS, Assistant Vice President of Pharmacy Services at NorthShore, answers some questions on why it’s so important to take your medications as prescribed:
If I’m feeling better is it ok to stop taking my medications?
No, always take the full regimen of medications; don’t stop if you’re feeling better after a few days. This is especially important for antibiotics but should be a general rule for any medication. In addition, patients shouldn’t stop or start any medications – including over the counter medications or herbals – without discussing with their physician or pharmacist.
Why is it so important to strictly follow the prescription instructions?
The efficacy of medications can be altered if not taken appropriately (e.g. with food or at a certain time of day) or potentially lead to side effects and adverse reactions if taken inappropriately.
What are some tips for those who have a hard time staying consistent with their medications or get confused because they’re on so many?
It is very important for patients to understand their medications. Please ask your physician or pharmacist if you are confused or don’t understand the reason for taking a medication. Also pill box organizers can be helpful to most patients. There are also some new technologies available, such as medication reminder apps that can help with this as well. One of the most effective ways to stay organized is to get all of your refills on the same schedule, so there is only one trip to the pharmacy every month.
Labels often specify to store medication in a specific place or at a certain temperature. What is the reason for this?
Certain storage conditions (heat, cold, humidity) may degrade medications and affect their performance. Keeping medications in your bathroom is not the ideal location because of the wide fluctuations in temperatures and humidity related to showering or bathing.
How can I properly dispose of leftover medication?
Most pharmacies are not legally able to take back medications after they have been dispensed to a patient. Many local municipalities have drop-boxes within a municipal building that allows members of the community to drop off unused or expired medication. The Illinois EPA has a fairly complete list of locations for medication disposal.