Ensure your medicine first does no harm

Read the insert information for your prescriptions

Medicine helps us tremendously, but occasionally we experience negative side effects, allergic reactions or other problems. Sometimes they’re quite serious.

It’s important to be aware of potential problems so you can watch for them and report them right away before they become dangerous.

An Anchorage woman recently contacted me and asked me to share her tale, in the hopes that it might spare others some of the trouble she’d had. I agreed, because I’ve heard so many similar stories over the years.

She was prescribed a medication and developed a severe side effect that landed her in the hospital. As her husband’s caregiver, this was incredibly stressful for her on several levels. Months later, she’s still recovering physically and financially.

She told me she wished she’d paid more attention to the information that came with the medicine; it warned her to beware of certain side effects.

“Medications can be challenging sometimes,” sympathized Matt Madden, M.D., medical director of Providence Alaska Medical Center’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

“We certainly see patients who have had difficulty taking the medications they’ve been prescribed,” Madden said, and encouraged Alaskans to learn what they’re taking and why. “Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to ensure you understand.”

By law, pharmacists must counsel their patients on new prescriptions, unless a medical professional will give the prescription in a health care facility, or if the patient or patient’s care giver refuses the counseling.

A pharmacist will likely share these points. I’ve added examples based on Warfarin.

1) the name and description of the medication (Warfarin, a blood thinner)

2) the dosage and the dosage form (5 milligrams, in a tablet)

3) the method and route of administration (in a pill, by mouth)

4) how long you should take the medication (once a day for three weeks)

5) any special directions and precautions that the pharmacist determines are necessary (may need to follow up with provider on a regular basis for lab work)

6) common severe side effects or interactions, how to avoid them, and what you should do if they occur (may easily bruise, must watch for signs/symptoms of internal bleeding, especially blood in the urine; if any occur, report to provider immediately)

7) ways the patient can self-monitor (report to provider if there are any sign/symptoms of bleeding; always follow up with provider as instructed)

8) proper storage (keep tablets at room temperature, do not expose to extremes in temperature)

9) prescription refill information; and

10) what to do if you miss a dose. (It is important not to miss a dose. If you do, call your healthcare provider. Take the dose as soon as possible on the same day. If it is almost time for your next dose, take only that dose. Do not take double or extra doses to make up for a missed dose.)

That’s a fair amount of information, and you may not remember it when you need to — like when you miss a pill a week after you start your prescription. No problem! When you pick up your prescription, ask the pharmacist to print the information for you if it isn’t already included.

If you don’t have the patience or eyesight to hunt down the relevant information in a thicket of tiny type, please, call your pharmacist. That’s what we’re here for.

Have a question?

Please email us at AKMedEd@alaska.gov if you have a medication question you’d like answered, or to request a pill dispenser, wallet-medication list, or magnifying glass.

Lana Bell is a state pharmacist for the Alaska Pioneers’ Homes.