For many Americans struggling with chronic illnesses, taking medications and supplements is an important part of staying healthy. And if you’re juggling multiple prescriptions, you can have a special way to store your medications so you know which ones to take and when. However, a new study published in the journal Health Technology Assessment found that a popular storage method may actually increase your risk of experiencing adverse drug reactions, which the researchers found “counterintuitive” given the product’s purpose. Read on to find out which storage method might increase the risk of side effects and why you shouldn’t stop using it if you’ve already started.
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Everyone needs a prescription filled from time to time, but you might be surprised to learn how many prescriptions the average American fills each year.
According to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, more than 131 million Americans, or 66% of all adults in the United States, use prescription drugs each year. And the likelihood of needing multiple medications increases with age. “Three quarters of people aged 50 to 64 use prescription drugs, compared to 91% of people aged 80 and over,” write their experts. “The average number of prescriptions filled [annually] also increases with age, rising from 13 years for those aged 50 to 64 to 22 years for those aged 80 and over.
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A study by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) analyzed the impact of older people storing their prescription medications in pill boxes. Although these are usually touted as a way to minimize adverse effects by reducing the risk of double-dosing or completely forgetting one’s medication, what the researchers found was counter-intuitive. Using data from “unintentionally non-adherent older people” – that is, older people who frequently forgot to take their usual medications – the team learned that people who switched to medication organizers were more likely to experience side effects than those who took their pills directly from the bottles. .
“We found that on average, when patients who had previously taken their medications sporadically were switched to a pill dispenser, they took all of their medications and became ill, while those who remained on the usual medication packs had no no adverse effects,” said Debi BhattacharyaPhD, lead author of the UEA School of Pharmacy study, per press release.
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While medication organizers can help people take recommended doses, switching from labeled bottles to organizers can lead to adverse effects.
“It’s likely that because the patients were taking their medications sporadically, they weren’t getting the expected health improvements. So the doctor may have increased the dose of the medication to try to get the desired effect,” explained Bhattacharya. “When these patients switched to a pill dispenser and suddenly started taking more of their prescribed medication than before, they experienced normal side effects from the medication.”
Although using pill dispensers may increase your risk of side effects when transitioning, the researchers pointed out that if you are already using them without any problems, you should not stop.
In the long term, these products offer considerable benefits. “People who are already using a pill organizer without any harmful effects should not stop using it, as it seems to help some patients take their medications as prescribed,” Bhattacharya said. “It’s the switching stage that seems to be the danger.”
The key, according to the researchers, is to consult your doctor or pharmacist when you intend to change storage methods to ensure that the correct doses have been prescribed for you. To that end, it’s important to be transparent with your healthcare providers if you haven’t taken all of your medications as recommended before switching to a pill organizer.
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