Getting to Know Your Medications

Tips to avoid harmful interactions and track your medications

Updated on: June 28, 2019

Originally posted on: September 22, 2014
by
Express Scripts Pharmacist Mr. Reyes specializes in medication management issues for seniors. Topics include best practices for managing multiple prescriptions.

More than half of adults 65 and older take four or more prescriptions on a regular basis. It’s no wonder that harmful drug interactions are a major worry for many seniors.

Note: Drug interaction occurs when there is a reaction between two (or more) drugs, or between a drug and a food/beverage or dietary supplement, or between a drug and an existing condition. Drug interactions may make your drug less effective, cause unexpected side effects or increase the action of a particular drug. Some drug interactions can be harmful to you.

Managing so many medications can take a toll on both your health and your wallet. Here are four things you can ask your doctor that can help you better manage both your medication and your money:

  1. Which condition does the medication treat?
    • When your doctor gives you a new prescription, the first thing to ask is which condition it treats.
    • Keep track of your medications with a personal medication record. Include prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and dietary supplements.
    • Include the drug’s name, strength, dose, when you take it, what it looks like and which condition it treats. Also list the contact information of the doctor who prescribed it, and the date you started taking it.
    • Be sure to update this record whenever your prescriptions change. If you take a generic medication instead of a brand-name medication, note this information.
  2. Will this drug interact in a harmful way with any of my other medications?
    • Make sure your doctors are aware of any medications you currently take before they prescribe a new one.
    • Always ask your doctor if there is anything you should avoid eating or drinking while taking a drug. Some foods and beverages, such as grapefruit or alcohol, can cause harmful interactions with certain medications.

      Tips that can help reduce the risk of a medication error or harmful drug interaction:

      • Take your medication record to medical appointments and share with your doctors. Show it to your pharmacist before filling a prescription.
      • Make a copy of your medication record and carry it with you, such as in your wallet or handbag. Provide the list to a new doctor or pharmacist and have it with you in case of an emergency.
  3. Do I need to take this medication?
    • Review all your medications with your doctors to see if there might be some drugs that you may no longer need.
    • If your doctor can safely reduce the number of drugs you take, the risk of harmful drug interactions will be lower, and you may save money.
  4. Is there a generic equivalent or alternative available that would work for me?
    • Many brand-name drugs have generic versions. One of the easiest ways to cut prescription drug costs is to switch from a brand-name drug to a generic drug.
    • An FDA-approved generic drug is tested for quality and strength and can be expected to work as well as the brand-name version.
    • When your doctor writes a new prescription, ask if a generic drug might be right for you. Generally, your doctor will know if a generic equivalent or generic alternative drug is available in place of the brand medication.
    • The price difference between brand and generic drugs can be significant — it is estimated that you could save at least two thirds of your drug costs if you use generic drugs.