Healthy Living in the North

Canadian Patient Safety Week: Not all meds get along

Rob Pammett, Research and Development Pharmacist, holding a large bag of meds.

Rob Pammett, Research and Development Pharmacist – Primary Care, removing expired and unneeded medications from a patient’s home.

Canadian Patient Safety Week is October 29 – November 2, and this year’s theme is Not All Meds Get Along. It’s a reminder that modern medicine is very complex and requires careful monitoring to make sure people don’t experience medication-related harm.

Two thirds of Canadians over age 65 take at least five medications regularly, and more than 25% take over 10. We enjoy longer, healthier lives partly thanks to effective modern medications, but we should always be aware of the possibility of medication-related harm.

Medication interactions

Sometimes medications can interact with each other, making them work too well or not well enough, with serious consequences.

For example, imagine taking a natural health product that made your blood pressure medication work too well – you might start feeling woozy, low-energy, or even faint. This is a real example of what might happen if you took  peppermint extract and felodipine, a common blood pressure medication.

The importance of reviewing medications

Medication reviews help develop a clear list of your medications and how you’re taking them. A medication review can also help optimize your medications, making them easier to manage, safer and more effective. A review also gives both you and your healthcare team an up-to-date list of your medications, which can be vital if your health status changes, or if you need emergency care.

A wide variety of medications on the counter.Before starting any new medications (including over-the-counter products from a pharmacy, natural health products and vitamins, or even cannabis products), it’s important to talk to your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse practitioner. They can review your medications and give advice on whether they’ll be safe and effective for you.

Who should have a medication review?

I use the following 5 questions to help identify people who might benefit from a medication review:

  1. Do you regularly take 5 or more medications? (including prescription and non-prescription products, vitamins and minerals)
  2. Do you take 12 or more doses of medication each day?
  3. Are you currently taking medications for 3 or more medical conditions?
  4. Have your medications or the instructions on how to take them changed 4 or more times in the past year?
  5. Do you take any of the following medications?
    • Anti-epileptics
    • Anti-coagulants
    • Drugs for chronic pain
    • Insulin
    • Drugs to lower blood sugar
    • Lithium
    • Digoxin
    • Methotrexate

Answering “Yes” to 3 or more of these questions means there’s a good chance that your medications can be optimized: you should ask for a medication review. Stay healthy and have a great Canadian Patient Safety Week!

Rob Pammett

About Rob Pammett

Rob Pammett is the Research and Development Pharmacist – Primary Care, a partnership between Northern Health and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia, where he holds the rank of Assistant Professor (Partner). He has an active clinical role in multiple primary care homes in Prince George and works with interprofessional teams to provide comprehensive care to patients.

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