With Americans regularly taking more pills than ever, Consumer Reports is asking consumers to get a “medication checkup” with their doctor or pharmacist to help prevent risky drug errors and interactions – and possibly save money. Working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Consumer Reports has proclaimed October 21, 2017, as “National Check Your Meds Day.”
The idea is simple: At least once a year, consumers should take all of their medications –including prescription and over-the-counter medication, plus vitamins and other dietary supplements – to a pharmacist or physician for a “brown-bag” review. That allows them to check for potential harmful drug interactions and possibly eliminate unnecessary drugs.
Many stores and pharmacy chains are supporting this initiative, including Albertsons, Costco, CVS, Sam’s Club, Target, and Walmart. Many independent pharmacists around the United States will support it too, and some pharmacies may even have extra staff on hand. Consumer Reports recommends that consumers ask their pharmacies if they’re participating. To participate on the day on Twitter, use the hashtag, #NationalCheckYourMedsDay.
Consumer Reports’ prescription drug program, Best Buy Drugs, recently reported in a special investigation, “Too Many Meds?” that more than half of Americans now regularly take an average of four prescription medications. Many in that group also take over-the-counter drugs, as well as vitamins and other dietary supplements.
“Much medication use is life-saving, without a doubt,” said Lisa Gill, deputy editor, Consumer Reports. “But some drugs can potentially do more harm than good. Our concern is that inappropriate prescribing can lead to unnecessary risk, including trips to the emergency room.”
By launching National Check Your Meds Day, Consumer Reports hopes to encourage consumers to talk with their healthcare providers about the meds and supplements they take, so they can ultimately lower their risk, Gill said.
In the past 20 years, the increase in prescription drug use has been explosive. The total number of prescriptions filled by all Americans has skyrocketed by 85 percent from 2.4 billion prescriptions in 1997 to 4.5 billion in 2016. The U.S. population has increased by only 21 percent.
“There are many root causes, including a ‘culture of prescribing,’” she said. “Perhaps most worrisome is prescribing for pre-disease stages of a condition, such as pre-osteoporosis or pre-diabetes where the medications offer limited benefit for people. And, we’ve seen a push to treat common problems like back pain, heartburn, and insomnia with medication before trying effective, non-drug measures first.”
As the number of drugs that Americans use piles up, so does the need for caution.
“The risk of adverse events increases exponentially after someone is on four or more medications,” said Michael Hochman, M.D., of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
The amount of harm stemming from inappropriate prescription medication is staggering, Hochman. Almost 1.3 million people went to U.S. emergency rooms due to adverse drug effects in 2014, and about 124,000 people died from those events, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s estimated that nearly half of those events could be prevented with more appropriate medication use.
Is a medication check-up right for you? Six questions to ask
In a special report, “Give Your Drugs a Checkup,” available online at CR.org, Consumer Reports suggests six questions to ask yourself to decide if you need a medication check-up, also known as a “brown bag review”:
- How many doctors prescribe your meds? Consumer Reports recommends a drug review is a good idea even if you have just one physician. But the more doctors you see, the greater the risk of miscommunication and duplicate drugs.
- Do you also regularly take over-the-counter drugs or dietary supplements? They can pose risks even though they don’t require a prescription.
- Do you take more than one drug to treat the same health problem, such as two drugs to treat depression? That’s sometimes necessary to control your condition, but it can also be a red flag that you’re taking a drug you may not need.
- Do you need a drug to control the side effects of another? That, too, can be okay if it makes it possible to take a drug you require. But check to see whether you can ease side effects by lowering the dose, switching to another drug, or trying lifestyle changes instead.
- Have you been taking your medication for more than three months? Many conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, can require drugs for a lifetime. But for some problems, people stay on drugs longer than necessary.
- Do you struggle to pay for your meds? Consumer Reports’ previous surveys have found that doctors often don’t consider the cost of drugs they prescribe. Don’t hesitate to ask about less expensive but equally effective alternatives, including generic versions.