Declutter your medicine cabinet

Happy New Year! Getting organized is common resolution. As you tackle that junk drawer or bedroom closet, remember to open your medicine cabinet.

Taken and stored correctly, medications – both those prescribed by a healthcare professional and those you buy over the counter without a prescription – can improve your health, treat diseases and illnesses, and make life better. Here are some tips to help you stay safe and get the most out of your meds.

Understand your medications

An educated consumer is the best kind, and this is particularly true when it comes to medications. Knowing what medications you take, why you take each medication, and how to take the medicine is important to controlling your pharmaceutical health.

When your doctor or other healthcare provider prescribes or recommends a new medication, make sure that you understand the medication by asking: Should the new medicine be taken at a certain time of day? Does it need to be taken with food? Will it interact with anything – other medications, food, alcohol – you consume? Are there any side effects that you should expect? What is the benefit of this medication? How long do you need to take the new medication? What symptoms or reactions should you monitor? Are there any activities that you need to amend – like handling heavy equipment or driving?

Follow a medication plan

For people who take multiple medications every day, managing pills and schedules can be a challenging task.

AtlantiCare offers a free medication tracker which you can download here: http://www.atlanticare.org/images/pdf/ACareMedRecord2.pdf

Fill out this form, carry it with you, and bring it to all medical appointments. Ask your pharmacist or PCP if you need help.

There are many ways to help make sure that you take the right medication at the right time: pill boxes, alarms, pill reminder apps, and calendars. Find what works for you so that you take the right medication, in the right dose, at the right time. Involving a family member can also be helpful so that he or she can help keep you on track.

Need help understanding your medications? Talk to your primary care provider or your pharmacist.

Create checks and balances

These aren’t just for government! Seeing a primary care provider (PCP) annually and having all of your prescriptions filled at only one pharmacy will help ensure that your healthcare providers have good oversight of the medications you take. Talk to your PCP about any over-the-counter (OTC) medications you take, and ask about any interactions with prescription medications he or she has prescribed.

Using only one pharmacy will ensure that your pharmacist has access to up-to-date information on any prescription medications you take. He or she can then better counsel you about your medication needs.

Store medication safely

Believe it or not, the medicine cabinet in your bathroom is NOT the best place to keep your meds. Most medications should be kept in a cool, dry area, out of direct sunlight. The changing heat and humidity of a bathroom can cause chemical decomposition and decreased effectiveness of the medications.

Certain medications may have special storage instructions, such keeping your prescription refrigerated. Make sure to read the prescription labels and consult your pharmacist with any questions.

Be sure, too, to keep any medications out of reach of young children.

Dispose of expired prescriptions and OTC drugs safely

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all prescription and OTC medications to have an expiration date. You wouldn’t drink expired milk, so why would you take expired pills?

When a drug expires, the chemical composition of the product changes. This can result in decreased effectiveness and can be harmful. Once a medication is past its expiration date, there is no guarantee that the medicine is safe or effective.

Additionally, if your drug therapy has been changed and you have unused medications left over – even if unexpired – dispose of them properly.

Pills are not pets! So when your medications expire, you need to dispose of them properly – not likely flushing Gerry the goldfish down the toilet.

 “Project Medicine” is an initiative run through the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Local Police Departments throughout Atlantic County and the state offer a safe and secure way to dispose of any leftover medication. Visit http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/meddrop/Pages/default.aspx for more information.

Your prescriptions are for you

All kindergarteners know that sharing is caring – but this is NOT SO for prescription medications. What is safe and effective for you may not be safe or effective for another person, even someone with the same condition or similar medical needs. Everyone is different in terms of their health, their medication needs, and medications they take.

Other concerns for sharing medicines include the transmission of infections, especially if the medicine requires sterility, such as eye drops or injections.

Keep your prescriptions to yourself. It’s the safe and friendly thing to do.

Steve Moscola, RPh, is the lead pharmacist with AtlantiCare’s Community Pharmacy in Galloway. Shimeng Liu, PharmD, is a pharmacy resident with AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center.