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Managing Mom's Meds:
Safe Prescription Drug Use for Older Adults

10 Tips for National Patient Safety Week

More than 2.3 million drug-related errors affect older Americans each year, often resulting in rush trips to the emergency room, expensive hospitalization and subsequently, the potential decline of a senior citizen's independence.

According to Prescription Solutions, a national pharmacy benefit management company that manages prescription drug benefits for millions of older Americans, there are precautions that seniors, their adult children and caregivers can take to prevent mishaps related to prescription use.

"Some older Americans, who may be taking six to ten medications at one time, as well as their adult children and caregivers, may be unaware of potentially harmful drug interactions or side effects," said Joseph Addiego, M.D., Prescription Solutions' chief medical officer.

"Safety is also compromised when people try to save money by reducing a dosage, sharing or hoarding drugs, or even not filling a prescription because of the cost. These actions can cause serious health consequences."

National Patient Safety Week is March 6-12, and the experts at Prescription Solutions, including more than 150 pharmacists, nurses and physicians, recommend the following steps for seniors, their families and caregivers to make sure they are using prescription drugs properly and economizing in ways that are safe and not harmful:

1) Bring current prescription medications at least once a year to your primary care doctor's office and have them reviewed to verify that each medication is still useful and appropriate, and to ensure that the combination of medications is safe.

2) Store medications properly at home. Most people keep medications in the bathroom medicine cabinet, where they can get damp and lose potency. A dry place such as a kitchen cabinet or bedroom is a better storage location as long as the medications are out of reach of children or safely locked away.

3) Keep the appropriate medication in the correct bottle. Don't mix different medications in the same bottle to save space or for traveling, for example.

4) Check medications several times a year to make sure they have not expired.

5) Dispose of old and expired medications properly by flushing them down a toilet. Don't throw them in the trash where a child might find and ingest them.

6) Develop a relationship with your local pharmacist to consult with questions about the proper use of medications and possible drug interactions. If you are using a mail order pharmacy, you can consult with one of the pharmacists by phone.

7) For chronic conditions, find out if your benefit program offers a mail order pharmacy for refills of medications used to treat them. Mail service offers a number of attractive features for seniors, such as:

  • Safety. Because the mail service facility will have a record of other prescriptions that you are taking, pharmacists can check for potential drug interactions before a drug is dispensed.
  • Cost savings. By ordering from mail service, seniors can receive a 90-day supply of medications for treatments of chronic conditions versus the typical 30-days supplied by local retail pharmacies, thus saving money by having fewer co-pays when prescriptions are filled.
  • Convenience. Drugs can be ordered from the mail service pharmacy by telephone, mail or online - a great convenience for many seniors whose mobility may be limited.
8) Find out from your pharmacist or physician about the possibility of taking generic drugs as opposed to brand-name drugs. A generic drug that is deemed therapeutically equivalent to a brand-name drug may be considerably more affordable.

9) Check with your health plan or pharmacy to see if they offer other cost-saving opportunities such as discount cards for prescriptions or over-the-counter medications at the local pharmacy.

10) Although it may appear to be an attractive way to save money, do not order drugs from unknown Web sites. Order only from a Web site through your own health plan or retail pharmacy that provides password protection for its members.

Unknown Internet pharmacies may not be licensed or staffed by actual pharmacists, and there are no guarantees that the medications will be effective, be the correct dose, or even be the drug they are advertised to be.

Prescription Solutions is an innovative pharmacy benefit management company managing the prescription drug benefit of commercial, Medicare and governmental health plans, as well as those of employers and unions.

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