Kelle Turner, Pharm D

Sr. Director Regulated Markets Ms. Turner is responsible for collaborating on establishing the Medicare Part D strategy for Express Scripts’ Prescription Drug Plans. She is an advisor on prescription safety and understanding Medicare Part D

Road Hazards: High-Risk Medications

Are you taking a high-risk medication? Here Is what you should know

As a pharmacist, I know the life-saving potential of every medication on the market. But even the safest and most effective medications have some effect on your body beyond just their intended purpose. Some medications come with side effects, limited effectiveness, and other concerns that may make a drug more risky than beneficial for an individual. This risk can be made worse by taking certain medicines together.

A listing called the Beers Criteria (named for the scientist who developed it) identifies these medications. They are known as high-risk medications (HRMs), potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs), or drugs to avoid in the elderly (DAEs).

There are several reasons why you may be prescribed a HRM:

  • You may have multiple doctors prescribing medications that are safe on their own, but have increased risks when combined with other medications.
  • You may have been prescribed the medication years ago and are continuing use it past a safe stage.
  • Your doctor may have determined that the benefits outweigh the risks for you and other patients.
  • Safer medications may be more costly or less available.
  • There may not be effective alternatives available.


How Can I Avoid Potentially High-Risk Medications?

Drug safety starts with awareness. Keep track of all medications you’re taking and make sure your doctor has access to the list before he/she prescribes you any new medicines. Be willing to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to say something if you’re unhappy with a prescribing decision. If you’re helping a loved one manage his/her prescriptions, be sure to keep up to date on the medications and help avoid the use of any potentially risky new medicines.
It’s important to always use your prescription benefit card — even when buying medications that aren’t covered by your plan or are available over the counter. By doing so, potential drug interactions can be tracked and pharmacists can help prevent harm to the patient.

What Should I Do if I’m Prescribed a HRM?

First, you should talk with your doctor or pharmacist about potential alternatives. If it’s deemed that the HRM is still your best option, take note of the possible risks and side effects. If you feel that you’re experiencing any issues, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor to see if there’s another alternative for you.

While these drugs could pose an increased risk at times, they can and do help people. By being proactive and aware of potential benefits and risks of each medicine, you can make an informed decision with your doctor about whether a medication is right for you.

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