COVID-19 or Not, Take Care of Yourself and Your Medications

These are unusual times and it’s stressful. In a world with many unknowns and so much that we cannot control, it is important for each of us to take personal responsibility for things we can control. To maximize our health at all times in our lives—not just during this novel coronavirus scare—we must not forget to take care of our bodies, which includes being mindful to take our medications regularly. Other healthy behaviors are integral, too, but beyond the scope of this blog:  eat a healthy, balanced diet; drink plenty of water; get sufficient sleep each night; get regular exercise—or any kind of physical activity; don’t smoke; and limit alcohol intake.  

Older adults and others considered high-risk because of chronic illnesses or suppressed immune system need to take extra precaution and isolate as much as possible. Face masks are our new friends. With smart medication use on my mind, here are seven tips and reminders that are in your control:

  1. Stay on top of your prescription refills. When you have a 5 to 7 days of your medicine remaining, contact your pharmacy for a refill. Some insurers are relaxing their rules about early medication refills, so it is worth it to ask your pharmacist.
  2. Take your medications regularly—don’t skip doses or try to stretch them out. See above about staying on top of refills. Your pharmacist is working hard to maintain access to medications that you need to take on a chronic (long-term) basis.
  3. Write out a complete list of your medications or update the list you have. Be sure to include on that list all three categories of medications: prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs (like antacids, pain medicines, and laxatives), and dietary supplements (like glucosamine, fish oil, and vitamins). Post the new list on your refrigerator for emergency purposes.
  4. Utilize medication delivery from your community pharmacy. Many pharmacies are offering the service now.
  5. Stay on top of chronic health conditions. Now is not the time to let your health management plan fall apart. Focus on healthy behaviors that I mentioned above: diet, exercise, sleep, not smoking, and limiting alcohol. This is a great time to pick one of these behaviors to improve upon or even add a new healthy habit to your daily or weekly routine.
  6. Communicate with your doctors. Your health is their primary concern. Yes, COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind, but management of your health conditions should not take a backseat to getting the care you need. If you think you are having a change in your symptoms or an adverse effect to a medication, let your doctor know. Don’t put it off until this COVID-19 scare passes; it will be with us for a long time. Your doctors are available by phone or video (telemedicine) to provide care. If needed, an in-person visit (with proper precautions that will be our new normal) should be an option.
  7. Take this time to clean out your medicine cabinet or wherever you store your old and unused prescriptions, nonprescription products, and first aid items.
    • Discard prescription medications that have a dispensed date on the label of one year ago or longer. These products can lose their effectiveness or become toxic over time. Extra bottles of old medicines can lead to confusion and errors, as well.
    • Discard nonprescription products—including over-the-counter products and dietary supplements—that are more than a year beyond their expiration date. This is a safe rule of thumb.
    • Remember:  DO NOT flush old medicines down the toilet or discard them in the sink. This is dangerous for the environment. Set your old medicines aside until you can get them to a drug take-back site. The other option is to mix them with coffee grounds or cat litter, for example, tie them up in a trash bag and throw them out in your trash. Here are links to medication disposal information and how to find drug take-back sites in the St. Louis region.

Written by Hedva Barenholtz Levy, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP

Updated 5-9-2020