Do you remember as far back as the 60’s, maybe even before, when “on drugs” was a negative term that usually involved illegal activity? Back then I pictured people on drugs as criminals, people lying around in a stupor until time to get their next fix. Unfortunately, I had a family member who fit this description so I saw “up close and personal” what being on drugs could do to a life. I vowed never to take drugs unless absolutely necessary, had both my kids without pain medications, staunchly gutted it out when I had a cold or the flu, and still don’t drink. It’s kind of a family joke that for a person who doesn’t drink I have quite a liquor collection since over the years I’ve acquired various beverages for cooking and lawn care.
Then along came my elevated blood pressure. I hated the idea of being on a daily diuretic to keep the pressure down, but I hated the idea of a stroke even more so I complied with doctor’s orders. I watched my elderly relatives be prescribed more and more medications to control this, that, and the other. I worked for hospice and had to come to terms with the use of narcotics as effective pain management though for a long time I cringed every time one of my patients was prescribed morphine. From watching my relatives and my patients go through the aging and dying process I learned a few things.
I learned to ask a lot of questions. I learned to ask my doctor why he or she is prescribing something. I learned to ask that my doctors to review my entire medication profile, including prescriptions by other doctors I’m seeing, to ensure I’m not taking medications that counter-act each other or that double up on each other.
Your doctor should ask you at each visit for a complete medication list. If she does’t, take charge of your welfare and be assertive in asking her to review everything you’re taking just to make sure. Don’t be so certain that just because you were taking something before a doctor visit or a trip to the emergency room means that you should still be taking it. My parents used to leave the hospital with a medication list and decide that they should resume everything they’d already been taking even if it wasn’t on the new list.
You may also want to find out whether or not generic is ok if there’s one available, whether or not there is an over the counter (OTC) alternative that is equally as safe and effective. I learned to ask if there were any free samples to try before spending money on a prescription, or if the doctor can write the prescription for 14 days or less just in case there are any adverse reactions. Of course, I learned this last one the hard way when I had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, swelled up and turned bright red, and itched everywhere. Needless to say, I needed a different medication.
Sometimes there is a manufacturers’ discount card for the medication. Ask! If your doctor doesn’t have such a card, ask your pharmacist to help you with assistance programs from the drug manufacturer, non profit groups, or the government. If you’re on a fixed income or have other financial issues, ask if it’s OK to split the pill or take it every other day to cut costs. Sadly there are people in this country who have to choose between medication and food or housing. Ask your pharmacist if you can save by buying the medication directly from the pharmacy.
There are questions to ask your insurer as well. Ask what the insurer’s “preferred” drug stores are near you. Ask if the drug your doctor has prescribed is on the insurer’s approved list. If it isn’t, call your doctor and find out if there’s an effective alternative. You should also find out if there is a minimum supply you need to order in order to be able to use your insurance benefit. Some insurers require that you order a 90 day supply or they will not cover any of the cost of the medication.
Practice asking these questions now. Encourage your family to ask them, too. I want you to live as well as you can for whatever your lifespan is. Knowing what to ask, and heeding the answers, will help with that. Do it now, before your mind’s on drugs.