Mental Health Three Keys to Responsible Prescription Drug Use
Taking medication for a mental health issue is very common. Researchers from the Institute of Safe Medication Practices found that more than 40 million U.S. adults reported filling one or more mental health prescriptions in 2013, the most recent year of collected information. In fact, data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that about 18 percent of U.S. adults experienced some form of mental illness in the past year. Taking a prescription medication to treat a chronic condition, like a mental health condition, requires more consideration than taking a drug for an acute condition, like an antibiotic for a sinus infection (though all drugs need to be used and stored with care). Here are three keys to taking your medication responsibly:
1. Understand your timeline and treatment plan
When your doctor prescribes a new medication for you, it is important to understand the full treatment timeline. Your treatment timeline includes:
· When you should start taking the medication, (e.g. morning or evening, when your current prescription is complete, at the start of a new week, with or without meals, etc.)
· When you can expect to see an impact, (e.g. will the drug will be effective immediately or will it take several weeks before you see a change in your symptoms)
· When or if side effects may appear and what side effects you may expect
· When or if you should call your doctor regarding specific side effects
· When or how to stop the medication
Your treatment also includes other therapies that are necessary to treat your illness, such as counseling, individual or group therapy, or laboratory monitoring. Drugs are only a part of a comprehensive treatment plan for mental illness.
2. Communicate clearly
Although today’s medical record technologies are becoming increasingly comprehensive, you should never assume that the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist you are speaking with has a full understanding of your health. Clear, open communication is critical to avoid dangerous drug interactions or possible side effects that may be unique to your situation.
It is important to always provide your doctor and your pharmacist with a complete list of all the medications you are taking, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs (including pain pills and nutraceuticals), as well as alcohol and recreational drugs. All can potentially create serious drug interactions with mental health therapies. In that conversation, make sure to include how much you take and how often.
Always speak up if you have any questions about when or how to take a particular medication and be sure to bring up any surprising side effects. It can be helpful to keep a small notebook or file of all of your prescriptions and notes from past appointments, so that the information is safely compiled in one location. Some patients like to store this information on their smart phone so that they always have it with them. The FamilyWize website has a Medicine Cabinet feature that may be of help.
3. Store safely
Everyone who takes a prescription medication for any reason should practice safe storage and disposal habits to lower the risk of dosing errors, accidental poisoning, and abuse. Luckily, if you are already following the first two keys to responsible drug use, storing your drugs safely can be pretty straightforward.
First, follow all instructions from your pharmacist for your specific medication. Some medications need to be kept in the refrigerator, or need to be taken at a specific time of day, etc. Those instructions are to keep you safe and to ensure that the treatment is as effective as possible. In general, store medications in a cool, dry place. Bathroom medicine cabinets are not always the ideal storage spot. Humidity from showers can sometimes adversely affect the stability of a medication.
Second, keep all drugs up and away from little hands, with the child safety cap tightly closed at all times. Only take your medication in a well-lit room (e.g. not in a dark bathroom in the middle of the night), and keep all drugs in their original containers. In the rare situation that a child does accidently take your medication, please call 911 immediately.
We are lucky to live in a world where there are prescription medications that can help us to manage mental health conditions. Working with your doctor and pharmacist to take your prescriptions responsibly is an essential step towards becoming your best self.