By Margaret Songy, Pharmacy Resident, Baptist Health Medical Center-North Little Rock
Misconceptions about medications are more common than we may realize. Pharmacists at Cleveland Clinic and KeepRXSafe.com have compiled a list of common pharmacy related myths that may help to clear up some of these misconceptions. After all, we could all use a healthy dose of the truth.
Myth 1: Forget what the label says –– if you’re really hurting, take more medication.
Fact: When you’re in severe pain, you may look at the dose on the pain-reliever bottle and think, “This can’t possibly help!” The truth is, yes, it can.
The dose listed on the label of over-the-counter or prescription medication isn’t just a suggestion –– it’s a careful calculation. Taking more than the listed amount of medication can rob you of the benefits and may even leave you feeling worse than before.
It is extremely important to also pay attention to the way in which the medication should be taken. Tablets and capsules meant to be swallowed should not be chewed, and vice versa. If you have trouble swallowing, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about alternative medication delivery methods.
Myth 2: Once you feel better, put the medicine away.
Fact: If your symptoms are gone but you still have a week left on your medication, you may be tempted to disregard the remaining doses. However, just like the amount of medicine you need is a well-measured decision, so is the length of time you need to take it. Stopping your medication early can increase your chance of relapsing into illness.
If you’re considering getting off of maintenance medication because you can no longer afford it, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Your doctor prescribed that medicine because you need it. There are many available options that can help to reduce the costs of medications to make them more affordable.
Myth 3: Natural supplements are a safer choice.
Fact: Natural supplements may seem safer and healthier than over-the-counter medications. But unlike over-the-counter medications, supplements are regulated as food and not as drugs by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. This means the effectiveness of the supplement does not have to be proven before it is marketed, and manufacturers don’t have to share safety information.
Standards for supplements are not as strict as the standards for medications, and the amount of each ingredient may be inconsistent between products. Potential side effects may or may not be mentioned on the label. Also, some medications don’t work as well with certain supplements. If you’re interested in natural supplements, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which ones are safe to use.
Myth 4: Antibiotics are always the answer.
Fact: When you or a loved one is sick, you want to get better fast, and you also want the cure to last. Most people assume that antibiotics are the fastest route to recovery. But antibiotics are only helpful in illnesses such as strep throat caused by bacteria. Most illnesses, like colds and sore throats, are caused by viruses that don’t respond at all to antibiotics.
Even though you’re feeling miserable, over-the-counter medications will usually relieve your symptoms until the virus is gone. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about which ones are safe to take. For example, if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) may not be the best option for you because it can elevate your blood pressure.
If you’re not feeling a lot better after a few days, it’s time to call your doctor. It is possible that you may have developed a secondary bacterial infection, and that’s when antibiotics will help you. Prescribers try to reserve antibiotics because using them when they are not needed can lead to resistant and harder-to-treat infections.
Myth 5: Your doctor doesn’t need to know which vitamins you take.
Fact: When prescribing a medicine or suggesting an over-the-counter remedy, your doctor needs to know all other medications that you’re taking. You might not think to include vitamins or supplements on that list, but it is important that your doctor knows everything you take even if you think he does not want or need to know.
This is to ensure that the medicine being prescribed won’t interact with your daily vitamins and supplements in a dangerous way. Some medications, vitamins, or supplements can hinder the way your body absorbs, breaks down, and eliminates medicine. When in doubt, don’t leave any vitamins or supplements out –– tell your doctor about all of them.
Myth 6: Store your medications where you won’t forget them –– on the bathroom sink.
Fact: Remembering to take your medications every day can be challenging, and putting them where you’ll see them every day may seem like a good idea to help you to remember. However, storing meds by your bathroom or kitchen sink exposes them to dampness and light, which can often damage them.
Unless you are told otherwise, store medication in a dry area away from heat and direct light. It’s also important to store your medication in its original container or in a pill box that can’t be opened by little hands. Always remember to keep medication out of a child’s reach.
Myth 7: You can swallow your medication with a sip of any drink
Fact: Remember to always take your medicine with water, not alcohol. Alcohol can interfere with the way your body absorbs medication.
Also, a quick sip of water is not a sufficient enough amount to swallow your medication. Swallow enough water to keep the tablets or capsules from dissolving before they reach your stomach or you the run the risk of the medication irritating your throat on the way down.
Knowing whether to take your meds on a full versus an empty stomach is also extremely important. Following instructions will ensure that your medicine can do its job.
Myth 8: It’s OK to take medication that was prescribed for someone else.
Fact: There is a growing perception among younger people that abusing prescription drugs is more controlled or safer than abusing other kinds of drugs. This often leads to the assumption that taking someone else’s prescription medication is safe, even if you are not taking the medication for recreational purposes.
A prescription medication is only safe when the person for whom the prescription was written is taking the medication.
The prescriber, knowing all of the details concerning the patient and condition being treated, is prescribing medication to be used by only the person whose name is on the prescription.
There are several reasons why taking someone else’s medication is dangerous. For example, Joe gets a prescription for Oxycontin to treat his pain after he had back surgery. Joe might assume that anyone else, such as his wife, children, or friends could also take one of his Oxycontin tablets to treat their pain. After all, they are safe enough for him, and they seem to effectively treat his pain, so why would they be dangerous to other people?
But taking a dose of Bill’s medicine that is too strong for someone else can be lethal. If you have certain other medications or substances in your body, taking Joe’s pain killers can be dangerous.
There are numerous unknown factors involved any time you take someone else’s prescription medication. Avoiding the unknown can potentially save a life.
Following these guidelines and always reading medication labels carefully will keep you and your loved ones healthy and safe.