Date: November 24th, 2014
The average 75-year-old American has three chronic conditions and takes five prescription medications. Even though older adults make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 34 percent of all prescription medication use and 30 percent of all over-the-counter (OTC) use. And many of these adults find themselves taking more than one medication at a time. In fact, two out of five Medicare patients take five or more prescription medications.
For most, these medications mean fewer symptoms, less pain, delayed consequences of disease and healthier, more independent lives. For some, these medications are literally life-saving.
But taking these medications is not without risk. In addition to the side effects that often come with taking the medications themselves. There is also risk in not taking them properly, stopping use before a health care professional recommends it, taking them with other medications, and in just having them around where others can get into them.
Thankfully, there are a lot of resources aimed at keeping seniors and their loved ones safe from accidental and improper use of medications.
Preventing Unintentional Overdose
While medications often provide enormous benefits, taking too much can be downright dangerous. This is especially true with acetaminophen, the most common drug ingredient in the United States. It’s found in more than 600 different medications—both prescription and OTC—including pain relievers, fever reducers, sleep aids, cough and cold meds, allergy relief remedies, and more. If too much is taken, it can cause liver damage.
When used as directed, acetaminophen is safe and effective. However, there is a limit to how much one person can safely take during the day, and unfortunately it’s not always easy to keep track of how much you’ve taken if you’re using multiple medications that contain the ingredient.
This is why the Acetaminophen Awareness Coalition, a group of leading health, health care providers and consumer organizations, launched the KnowYourDose campaign. Our goal is to educate consumers and patients about how to use acetaminophen-containing medications safely and prevent accidental overdoses.
An important report released by the coalition in July of this year looks at the most common behaviors that can lead to accidental overdoses and shares the successes of many of the educational campaigns that are driving safe use and preventing overdose-related liver damage.
The coalition wants to remind you that during this cold and flu season; it’s especially important to remember to double check your medication labels to avoid doubling up. Taking more than the maximum daily dose of 4,000 mg is an overdose and can cause serious liver damage. So it’s important to make sure that you:
- Always read the label and never take more than directed.
- Know if your medications contain acetaminophen by checking the active ingredients:
- On OTC medications the word “acetaminophen” is listed on the front of the package or bottle AND in the active ingredient section of the Drug Facts label.
- On prescription labels, acetaminophen is sometimes listed as APAP, acetam or other
shortened versions of the word.
- Never double up or take two medications that contain acetaminophen at the same time.
- Don’t take your next dose too soon, or by the end of the day you may have taken too much.
- Never hesitate to ask your health care professional or pharmacist if you have questions.
Keeping Kids Safe
Medications that are helpful to the person taking them can be dangerous to others—especially little ones. As cold and flu season joins the holiday season, it’s important to take steps to keep the children in our lives safe from medications.
While it’s clear that grandparents place a top priority on their grandchildren’s safety, an often overlooked danger lurks within easy reach of these precious little ones—unsecured medications. This issue is becoming especially important as more and more grandchildren are being cared for by their grandparents. More than 5.4 million children are being raised in households headed by a grandparent, and one in eight care for a grandchild on a regular basis.
The result is alarming. Every eight minutes a child in the U.S. goes to the emergency room for medication poisoning, and, in one-third of those cases, it was the medicine of a grandparent that they got into. Recognizing how much education is needed in this area, on National Grandparents Day the Alliance teamed up with the CHPA Educational Foundation and the CDC’s PROTECT Initiative to remind grandparents how to keep the children in their lives safe with resources from the Up and Away Campaign.
A tip sheet from the campaign is designed to be hung where seniors will see it and shares important advice on medication storage:
- Store all medications and vitamins Up and Away and out of sight.
- Keep purses, bags and coats that contain medicines or vitamins out of reach and sight.
- Always lock caps tightly and put away medications after each use. Remember that weekly
pill reminder kits often don’t have child resistant closures.
- Never leave medications or vitamins out on a table, countertop or sink.
- Set a daily reminder to take medicines and vitamins since they will be out of sight.
- Program the National Poison Help number, 800-222-1222, into your phone.
Promoting Medication Adherence
So in order to keep our loved ones safe, now our medications are stored up and away—but out of sight. This makes remembering to take medications especially hard. Also making adherence (taking medications as prescribed or directed by a health care professional) difficult is the fact that 40 percent of seniors are unable to read the prescription labels, and 67 percent are unable to understand the information given to them.
Additionally, medications can be expensive, need to be refilled regularly, may not make the patient feel any better (even though they are working), or may make them feel worse. All of these things can be barriers to taking the medication when they are supposed to and for as long as they are supposed to.
The Script Your Future awareness campaign from the National Consumers League and other important partners reminds people that if they don’t take their medications as directed they’re putting their health and their future at risk. They encourage people to Take the Pledge to Take Their Meds and provide important tools for tracking medication use.
With three out of four Americans not taking their medication as directed, these efforts are vital.