By Betty Berry, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011  Q: I have read that many health problems and trips to the hospital are the result of incorrect handling or taking of medications. Could you address the importance of understanding the why, how and when of handling one’s medications?

A: This might be the perfect time to address this subject as most seniors have just completed their annual review of their medications to determine if they needed to change insurance carriers for Medicare Part D Prescription coverage for 2011.

Now would be a good time to review those prescriptions with their physicians to make sure they understand why they have been prescribed and to review any special rules that are associated with them.

I checked with a friend who is a pharmacist to see if there were any particular areas that could cause potential problems and I was surprised at what I learned.

It starts with making sure your doctors know what other herbs, vitamins, supplements or over-the-counter (OTC) medications you are taking. The combination of any of these items with certain prescription drugs may cause some unpleasant surprises.

When being given a new prescription make sure your doctor is aware of all other items you are taking. In reverse — if you are already taking a prescribed medication and want to start taking a new herb, vitamin, supplement or OTC medication check with your doctor before doing so.

If a new drug is prescribed make sure you learn everything you can about it. Ask for literature about the drug so you can read about it and have something to refer back to. You want to know what the drug is meant to do, when you should take it, how you should take it, with or without food, how long you will have to take it and what side effects you could expect. Also ask what you should do if you forget to take a dose.

One slip-up that is fairly common is the failure to check the prescription before leaving the pharmacy or receiving it in the mail. You need to make sure you have received the correct medicine, the right dosage and the correct number of pills. If this is a new prescription make sure you review the literature received with it. Become aware of the size, shape and color of the pill and any markings that appear on it.

Whenever possible have all your prescriptions filled through the same pharmacy. By sticking to one pharmacy the pharmacist has the ability to know all the drugs that you are taking. This allows him or her to be on the lookout for potential interactions.

Now that you have gotten your prescriptions home there are a few things you can do to prevent mismanagement on your part.

First consider where to store your medications. Many keep their meds in the bathroom medicine chest. This is probably a bad choice since bathrooms tend to have moisture and moisture can cause deterioration to medications which could result in drugs becoming less effective or perhaps even toxic. It is far better to keep them in a moisture free environment and in a place that children cannot gain access.

If you have a prescription that you only take on occasion make sure you check the expiration date before using. If it is out-of-date it may be ineffective or even toxic. Checking the date on OTC meds is just as important as it is for prescribed medications.

Last but certainly not least the lending or borrowing of a prescribed medication is always a no-no. Medications are prescribed on an individual basis and no two people are alike. Never take the chance of taking a drug that is not prescribed for you.

These are just a few of the more common slip-ups that can occur. To play it safe always ask before acting and become an educated consumer.

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