Can you have too many prescriptions? 3 facts to know about your medications

Half of all Americans take multiple prescriptions. We asked one of our expert pharmacists what you need to know.

Medication Therapy Management
If you're on multiple prescription medicines, you're in good company with half of all Americans. A recent survey found that a third of older adults commonly take five or more.  

Is there such a thing as taking too many medications? How do you know for sure? We asked one of our expert pharmacists, Allyson Schlichte at the Fairview Clinic in Uptown, what you need to know.

1. Thirteen or two prescriptions could be too many

One reason patients have multiple prescriptions is that there's something for almost any condition. Thanks to science, thousands of medications are currently available. Another reason is what Allyson calls the "prescribing cascade," when patients get medications to deal with the side effects of other medications.

For Allyson, the problem of ‘too many’ isn’t about a specific number, though. It’s about a feeling that leads patients to stop taking their medications altogether.

“Patients can be overwhelmed by 13 prescriptions, or by two,” Allyson says. “Patients should feel empowered, in control of their medications, and knowledgeable about how to use them safely. It’s my goal to help patients feel this way.”

2. Side effects are not always a necessary evil
Medicine should help patients feel better, but not every prescription is right for every patient. When Allyson reviews a patient’s regimen, she’s often surprised at what she hears.

“Patients frequently put up with bad side effects because they think they have to,” Allyson says. “There are other medication options for patients, and we can collaborate with their doctors to find something else that can work." 

Sometimes a medication that worked before no longer works for one simple reason: age. Bodies slow down as they get older and process medication differently. 

“A drug that worked great for a patient in their 20s may work differently at the same dose, now that they’re in their 60s or 70s,” Allyson says. “A change in dosage, or even a different medication, may help.”

3. You can get an appointment with a pharmacist
As patients take more prescriptions from multiple providers and specialists, having an expert who's able to look at the patient’s whole medication picture, and has time to answer every question, is invaluable.

“If you have a problem with your heart, you’d see a cardiologist,” Allyson says. “If you have a problem with medications, you can see a pharmacist. We’re the experts.”

That’s why Pamela Noll, DO, a primary care provider at the Fairview Clinic in Uptown, refers patients to Medication Therapy Management pharmacists like Allyson.

“There’s so much to know regarding medications,” says Dr. Noll. “As it gets more complex, these pharmacists are a great resource for patients. I can’t overstate the value they bring.”

When Dr. Noll referred Ianne Pearson, Ianne was in a continuous cycle of sickness. Regular bouts of bronchitis would aggravate her asthma, yet the medications to treat her asthma would complicate her diabetes symptoms. Ianne says working with Allyson helped her stabilize her health and be the person she wants to be.

“Allyson helps control things; she helps me maximize the meds I’m taking and minimize the problems that come with them,” Ianne says. “Allyson makes sure I know what each medication is doing and why it’s important, and how they work together. I know Allyson and Dr. Noll are working together on things, and it’s reassuring. I feel protected.”

A Medication Therapy Management pharmacist can help you be sure that your medication regimen is safe, effective, and convenient. They’ll also make sure you're spending no more than you need to. One-on-one appointments are available at more than 30 Fairview locations, and you don't need to be a patient of a Fairview clinic or hospital.

Talk to your doctor about a referral to Fairview Medication Therapy Management or make an appointment by calling612-672-7005 or e-mailing mtm@fairview.org.

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