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An annual review of the medications you take — also known as a brown bag review — is a good opportunity to make sure you're taking the right medicines for your condition, and taking them correctly.
Consumer Reports, working with the Department of Health and Human Services, has proclaimed Oct. 21 National Check Your Meds Day. A number of pharmacies — Albertsons, Costco, CVS, Sam's Club, Target, Walmart and many independents — have agreed to support the effort. Some may even have extra staff on hand to help you review your meds, so ask your local pharmacy if it is participating.
"Whether you're taking one, two or a dozen medications, having a comprehensive medication review with your pharmacist or doctor can help with identifying potential problems," explains Michael Steinman, a professor of geriatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. "It can also help your doctor remove medications you might no longer need." Asking whether there are meds you can stop taking could result in at least one fewer prescription, according to Consumer Reports' recent nationally representative survey.
If even one of the six questions below describes your drug regimen, make an appointment to see your doctor or pharmacist.
1. How many doctors prescribe your meds? A drug review is a good idea even if you have just one physician. But the more doctors you see, the greater the risk of miscommunication and duplicate drugs. So designate one health-care provider — usually your primary-care doctor — to oversee all of your meds.
2. Do you also regularly take over-the-counter drugs or dietary supplements? They can pose risks even though they don't require a prescription. So make sure that you tell your doctor about those you take, including pills, liquids, drops and ointments.
3. Do you take more than one medication to treat the same health problem, such as two drugs to treat depression? That's sometimes necessary to control your condition, but it can also be a red flag that you're taking a drug you don't need.
4. Do you need a drug to control the side effects of another? For example, do you take a laxative to ease constipation caused by an opioid? That, too, can be reasonable if it makes it possible for you to take a drug you require. But check to see whether you can ease side effects by lowering the dose, switching to another medication or trying lifestyle changes instead.
5. Have you been taking your medication for more than three months? Many conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, can require drugs for a lifetime. But for some problems, people stay on drugs longer than necessary.
6. Do you struggle to pay for your medications? Consumer Reports' surveys have found that doctors often don't consider the cost of drugs they prescribe. Don't hesitate to ask about less expensive but equally effective alternatives, including generic versions.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Read more at ConsumerReports.org.