Following Dosing Instructions and Keeping Meds from Theft are Keys to Medication Safety
By Stephen K. Peeples 
When used as directed, the medications our doctors prescribe or we buy over the counter are supposed to be safe. However, when used incorrectly, either by mistake or abuse, medications of any kind can turn deadly.
“There’s an old saying: ‘Every drug is a poison. The only difference is the dose,’” said Dele Akao (Pharm.D.), a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist who also manages the pharmacy at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital  in Valencia.
"So, what will help a person at the proper dose could also harm them at a higher dose," Akao said.
Educating patients about how to use their medications safely is a key part of Akao’s responsibilities at Henry Mayo, the Santa Clarita Valley’s only full-service hospital.
"There’s a lot of room for error and a lot of risk through taking medicines improperly," he said. "We’re here to make sure the patient not only receives the right drug for their health condition, but also takes the right dose.”
Drugs and doses can also vary from one person to the next, Akao said. "A drug that will work for one patient may not work for another," regardless of the dose.
The reasons for those variations are many, but chief among them are individual patients' biological differences, especially age (children to adults to senior adults).
There’s also the potential that a newly prescribed medication might interact dangerously with other medications a patient is already taking and produce bad side effects.
Most of us rely on our doctors and pharmacists to keep our meds straight, so that kind of dangerous interaction doesn’t happen.
"When we talk about (prescribing) medications wisely and safely, we’re also looking at all of the patient's medications," Akao said.
Safety is Job No. 1 Inside and Outside Henry Mayo
Safety is paramount for Akao and the 18 pharmacists he oversees at the hospital’s pharmacy, including “those working in clinics and doing all the other things like drug distribution and patient care,” he said. “We follow up as we look for ways to provide better pharmaceutical care for our patients.”
The Henry Mayo pharmacy team promotes medication safety outside the hospital as well, reaching out to Santa Clarita Valley residents at local health fairs and through articles such as this.
As wise consumers, we must read the labels and follow instructions when we purchase over the counter medications. Otherwise, we risk other possible health issues — liver damage from excessive use of acetaminophen, for example.
Safely using medications at home requires us to keep track of our prescription and over the counter drugs and the schedule for taking them. As patients age, this becomes a greater challenge, and the potential for accidental medicinal mishaps increases.
“Statistically, the older we get, the more meds we use and the more they’re likely to change because health conditions change,” Akao said.
Keeping Medications Safe from Theft
Keeping track includes making sure your medications aren’t adulterated or stolen, either by others in your home or by visitors.
“You don’t want to expose them to the point where they could be tampered with,” Akao said. “We’ve seen cases of people who have substituted similar-looking vitamins for the heart medication someone is taking. Usually they are people with access to you, maybe a grandson or granddaughter.”
So how does Akao recommend preventing people from pilfering pills and other meds from your medicine cabinet, nightstand or kitchen counter?
“Where that possibility exists, patients should have a locked cupboard, with a lock and key, maybe in the kitchen area where they typically keep their meds, and make sure it’s secured at all times,” Akao said.
Family members should keep an eye on seniors’ meds for clues they’re being stolen, like the need for refills more often than before.
“If your pharmacy and insurance are telling you, ‘You got a 30-day supply a week ago. Why are you back for a refill? This is way too soon,’” Akao said. “That tells family members something is wrong. They want to make sure that these drugs are not being stolen.”
Medications and Safety on the Road
When traveling, “Keep your medicines as safe as possible, because your life depends on them.” Akao said.
Plan ahead to make sure you will have enough of whatever meds you need to last the trip, with extra doses in case of travel delays or changes in plans. Ask your pharmacist how your meds will react to extreme heat if you’re going to Death Valley in August or extreme cold if your destination is Alaska in January.
If you fly, Akao said, “Don’t put your medicine bottles in the luggage that you’re checking in because that could get lost. Keep them in your carry-on luggage just in case something happens.”
However one travels, Akao said, “You want to keep your meds where only you have access to them, because you don’t want them to be tampered with or stolen.” It may be difficult to replace a prescription while on the road, especially out of the country.
Medications and Disaster Preparation
Just like getting ready to travel, “One needs to prepare their meds for emergencies,” Akao said, adding that a supply of necessary medications should be part of every family’s disaster preparation kit.
“The experts tell us now there’s a near-certainty that we’ll have a big earthquake in California, especially in Southern California,” he said. “So we should have at least three days of each person’s medications because it may be that long or longer before government agencies can get to people. In an emergency, your meds are as essential as canned food and water to drink.”
How to Dispose of Old Medications Safely: No Flushing
Most people know by now that disposing of old medications by flushing them down the toilet or even throwing them into the trash has disastrous environmental impact.
Instead, as Akao noted, you can take unused or out-of-date medications back to your pharmacy for proper disposal.
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station at the corner of Magic Mountain Parkway and Valencia Boulevard also has a mailbox out front where locals can drop off old meds.
Akao suggests first obliterating any personal information from the prescription bottle labels, or removing them altogether.
“We need to get rid of old meds,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is keep them at home.”
Take an Active Role; Ask Your Doctor and Pharmacist
“People who are on routine meds need to get involved in their own care,” Akao said. “Ask questions when they see their physician, ask questions when picking up their meds from the pharmacy. ‘If I’m on the same drug, and the color I’m picking up today is different from the one I got last month, why is the color different now?’ Although there are many checks in the process, errors still happen.”
He recommends keeping your own records of your medications, too.
“You never know — maybe the physician is somewhere, something happened, and is unavailable. So, keep a record of your meds, and just communicate,” Akao said.
“Everybody’s busy, but part of the service is that you draw them out and say, ‘Hey, I need to talk to my doctor about my medication. I need to talk to my pharmacist about my medication,” he said.
“We have senior citizens on multiple meds who ask questions about what to expect: ‘OK, this new med is for my blood pressure. Is it going to make me stay awake all night? Is it going to make me drowsy in the daytime?’” he said.
"I think people should take an active role in their own care, because even though there are many safety (measures) built into the process of getting drugs to a patient, things do go wrong," Akao said. "The patient who takes an active role in their own medication usage is the one who comes out on top.”
For more information, call 661-253-8000 or visit www.henrymayo.com. 
Photo: Courtesy Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.
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Henry Mayo Pharmacy Manager Offers Tips On Medications And Safety
Article: Henry Mayo Pharmacy Manager Offers Tips On Medications And Safety 
Source: Santa Clarita News 
Author: Stephen Peeples