By Barbara Bronson Gray
YOU’D THINK IT would be easy to take
medications: Just read the label and carry
on. But it’s not that simple.
“People often don’t understand how
they’re supposed to take the drug, what it’s
really for, how much to take or how diet can
have an impact on the medication,” says Bri
Morris of the National Community Pharmacists Association ( ncpanet.org), which
represents America’s community pharmacists, including the owners of more than
Not taking your medications when and
in the way they are designed to work is a
$290 billion problem in the United States,
Morris says, including $2,000 per patient in
additional physician visits annually, associated costs related to poor self-management
of chronic diseases and costs incurred
mostly among the uninsured. “When people don’t take their medications properly,
they’re more likely to have complications.”
Even the directions that come with
drugs can be confusing. For instance, if
you’re told to take a medication on an empty
stomach, Morris suggests taking it first
thing in the morning with water, and wait-ing at least an hour before breakfast.
If the label says “before meals,” she suggests taking it a half hour before eating.
With meals? Take it right before eating, and
if you really don’t feel like having a meal, at
least pair the pill with something you can
munch, like a few crackers, she adds.
Some drug labels don’t tell you to take
the medication with food, but it can be wise
to do so (unless directions indicate otherwise). For example, Morris says, ibuprofen
can irritate your stomach, so grab a few
for your health
crackers or a small snack if you can. Likewise,
antibiotics are often better tolerated with
food, but you have to be careful: Some lose
potency if they’re taken with milk or calcium.
Other medications should be spaced out as
evenly as possible over a 24-hour cycle. If a drug
should be taken twice a day, Morris recommends taking doses 12 hours apart, such as 7
a.m. and 7 p.m. If something needs to be taken
three or four times a day, ask your doctor or
pharmacist about the best timing.
Some medications, such as antibiotics, are
most effective if they’re taken around the clock.
Others are fine ingested only during the daytime.
Interactions and side effects
Almost every medication or supplement
you take may have side effects. How do you
know if a symptom is related to a health issue,
a drug you’ve been prescribed, a supplement
or even an interaction between medications?
“Usually you would know after taking a
second dose. If the symptom repeats and
becomes worse, it’s probably related to the
medication,” said Sophia De Monte, a
Costco Pharmacy manager in Nesconset,
New York. “With each repeated dose the
symptoms appear or become more severe.”
She suggests calling your pharmacist or
physician right away.
De Monte says there are some red flags
you should know about: “If you notice swell-
The Costco Connection
Costco Pharmacy locations can fill prescriptions for
every member in your family (including pets). Costco
pharmacists can help answer questions. Many pharmacy services are available through Costco.com.
ing in your feet, a headache that doesn’t go
away, the room is spinning or you have blurred
vision, rashes or an allergic reaction, call your
physician or pharmacist right away.”
She also warns about taking certain medi-
cations with alcohol. Some of the effects won’t
be noticeable right away, but will develop over
time, she explains.
Don’t drink alcohol with any pain medications—including acetaminophen—or any
drugs that cause drowsiness. “Some people are
more sensitive than others,” says De Monte.
Know your drugs
De Monte urges people to learn about
their medications. “Bring in a complete list of
your drugs and dosages, and ask the pharmacist to review them for potential interactions
or other issues, and offer tips,” she says.
“Always ask questions. The pharmacist
is the most accessible health professional
out there. It’s not a bother; it’s what we’re
there for.” C
Barbara Bronson Gray (bbgray@sbcglobal.
net) is a freelance writer based in California
who specializes in
CHRIS A RUSNAK