October is observed as the time we call to mind the vital importance of knowing about, and talking about, your medications. It’s a life skill. The chance of interactions and accumulations of effect are great, and they grow higher as we get older. Why should we talk, and who needs to know?
First, we need to know, ourselves, what those medications are that we take regularly – and their dosages. If we cannot recite them from memory – substance and amount – then it’s cause for concern. Either there are too many of them, or we are not paying careful enough attention. Why this little memory test? Because if we can’t tell family members or any specialists to whom we might be referred what we’re taking, then we are in serious jeopardy of drug interactions, or side effects, and those can range from sickening to deadly.
Talk About Your Medicines Month (TAYMM) was started in 1985 by the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) to promote safety, better use of medicines, and better health outcomes.
Raising Some Key Subjects
In recent years, TAYMM has focused on such topics as the interactions between prescription drugs and alcohol, which can greatly accelerate sensitivity to both and result in dangerous loss of judgement, inhibitions and motor skills, a potentially deadly combination. Polypharmacy – the growing instances of people taking near-handfuls of prescription medications, often prescribed by different specialists, with complex possibilities for interaction – was called “America’s other drug problem” in the 2016 TAYMM.
This year, a particular focus for awareness is the importance of safe drug disposal. The massive and tragic rise in addiction to opiates has prompted the beginning of regulations concerning who is responsible for disposing of unused doses of pain medications. Common concern and good sense suggest that we all become familiar with the process, because even a tooth extraction in the family might result in the need to get rid of unused prescription pain medications safely.
Disposing of Opiates Safely
Until recently, the state of the art was to mix unused opiates with coffee grounds or cat litter before depositing them in the trash. Now certain prescription pain relievers come with a packet containing a deactivating substance, with instructions to mix the unused opiates with water and in the prescription container, shake well, and then toss with complete confidence that the narcotic has been neutralized.
Called the Deterra drug deactivation system, the packet provided with opiate prescriptions uses molecular adsorption technology to render them inert, safe for the environment, and unavailable for misuse when they are properly disposed of. It’s a real step forward.
The Scale is Hard to Imagine
Maybe we should observe TAYMM this year by talking too about the scale of this problem. Opiate addiction has risen steeply, and with it the instances of heroin addiction, a substance that people who become addicted to prescription opiates find easier and cheaper to get. Tragically related are the thousands of overdose deaths caused by synthetic opiates used to spike heroin. Key examples are fentanyl, a substance 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, or cofentanyl, an animal tranquilizer so strong that an amount the size of a grain of salt can be fatal to human beings.
In 2017, there were 72,000 deaths from drug overdose. That is the equivalent of about six commercial airline crashes per week for a year. Can you imagine? If an airliner went down just about every day for a year, that would be the level of fatality we are seeing today from drug overdose. The scale of the problem is that hard to contemplate. And yet – the American Society of Anesthesiologists says that only about one-fourth of patients even ask about non-opiate options for post-op pain medication.
As a family practice dedicated to helping people find and keep their own version of well-being, a healthy path through life, we at Global Family Medicine naturally pitch in when it’s time to raise awareness of vital issues like these.
We hope you find this year’s Talk About Your Medicines Month a time to tune up this essential piece of your family’s health awareness. If we can help, call us at 843-815-6468.