By Nancy Swikert, M.D.
Tremendous advancements in science and medicine have revolutionized the treatment of conditions and diseases that were once unmanageable. Prescription medicines have become an essential lifeline for many Kentuckians, helping them to better treat their pain, seizures, mental illnesses and other serious ailments.
When patients adhere to the treatments prescribed by physicians, their health outcomes and quality of life can often be improved. But the dangers of misuse and abuse are always present, particularly when dealing with powerful opioids to manage pain.
Nearly one in four Kentucky adults report that a family member or friend has experienced problems as a result of abusing prescription pain relievers.
Prescription drug abuse has become one of Kentucky’s most pressing and publicized public health epidemics. In recent months, there has been no shortage of news stories about the tragic, often deadly, consequences of drug abuse and addiction.
That’s why the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care and the Kentucky Medical Association are launching Know Your Meds KY. This statewide campaign will encourage patients to look to their physicians for education about how best to use, store and dispose of their medicines in the safest way possible. It will also encourage physicians throughout the Commonwealth to take an active role in educating their patients about the importance of adhering to prescription schedules and how to safely dispose of unused medicines.
A simple conversation with your physician can go a long way in equipping you with the knowledge you need to use, store and dispose of your medicines in the safest way possible.
When you are desperate for pain relief, it is easy to accept a prescription without asking questions. But taking take time to speak with your physician about potential side effects and risks before you leave the office can make a big difference in protecting your own health and the health of others around you.
For example, you may not realize that your new medication can bring on fatigue, nausea, impaired driving or even mental confusion. Or you might not know that a particular drug has high rates of abuse among teenagers in your area. If patients don’t receive this information upfront from their prescribing physicians, they likely won’t hear it at all.
Prescription medicines save lives. But if used improperly, they can also be dangerous—especially if they get into the wrong hands.
Studies have shown that 75 percent of teens say they can access prescription pills at home, and a quarter of them will go on to abuse prescription medicines. Many accidental overdoses occur when individuals abuse medications prescribed to other family members in their households.
Safely storing your prescription drugs will help to prevent abuse and accidental overdose. Medicines should always be kept in their original containers or packaging. Labels contain important information, including the name of the medicine, dosage instructions and potential side effects. Always be mindful of how many doses should be left so you will notice if any of the medicine goes missing.
Proper disposal of unused medications is also critical to keeping prescription drugs away from anyone who might misuse or abuse them. Kentuckians can dispose of their expired or unwanted medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, at one of the state’s many prescriptions drop boxes. There are now 190 locations in 116 counties, with new sites being added daily. You can visit the Office of Drug Control Policy website to search for a drop box near you.
If you cannot make it to a drop box, you should take the correct and necessary steps to properly dispose of your medications at home. You can learn more at www.myoldmeds.com, a drug industry program working in partnership with the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Kentucky doctors are on the frontlines of the prescription drug abuse epidemic, and consequently, play an important role in addressing this statewide problem. Know Your Meds KY encourages physicians and patients to work together to prevent prescription drug abuse through knowledge and education.
For more information on safe drug use, storage and disposal, please visit kyma.org/know-your-meds-ky.
Nancy Swikert, M.D., is a Florence family physician practicing with St. Elizabeth Physicians. She is president of the Kentucky Medical Association, the statewide professional organization for physicians.