Because ME/CFS is a complex illness, it often takes many different medications to treat it. According to the CFIDS Association:
CFS treatment often requires a combination of medicines and other therapies; a 2003 study by the CDC reported that CFS patients had used twice as many different drugs as non-fatigued controls. The National Academies of Science estimates that preventable medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people every year; Reuters reports the costs of medication errors to exceed $177 billion annually in the U.S. alone.
Below are some great tips to help prevent any serious medication errors and also errors that may inhibit how well your medications work.
Use one pharmacy. If you are having your prescriptions filled at different pharmacies, you increase a risk of having drug interactions. It can also save you time to just have one stop to make when you need refills.
Get to know your pharmacist. While the pharmacist will have a computerized list of all of your prescription medications, he or she won’t know any over-the-counter or herbal meds you are taking. Getting to know your pharmacist and talking to them about what else you are taking can prevent drug interactions or other reactions.
Keep track of your medications. Something I have done for years has been to keep a list of all of my medications and I make sure I take it to my doctors’ visits also. When you see many different doctors, it is important that each one of them know ALL of the medications you are taking (including supplements and over-the-counter meds) so that they don’t prescribe anything that could cause a reaction. Keep track of the medication name, dosage, how many times a day you take the medication, and what you are taking the medication for. Another reason why it is important to know why a medication is prescribed:
Drug class categories can be misleading; for instance, antiepileptics are regularly prescribed for pain control and some antidepressant medications have immune effects and regulate sleep. The drug insert may not include these “off label” uses, so it’s important to talk to the prescribing provider at the time the medication is recommended.
For a medication tracker, click here.
Get into a daily routine for taking meds. If you take your medications at the same time every day, you will get into a routine and you will be less likely to forget. Also make sure you know whether to take certain medications with/without food, what medications you shouldn’t take together, etc. You can also buy medication boxes that have several compartments per day that you can load up with pills. What I have done to remember taking pills at different times of the day is to tie them into something that I do on a daily basis.
Take medications with water instead of juice. If you normally take your meds with grapefruit juice, you will want to quit that habit and switch to water. Grapefruit juice can disrupt absorption of medications. The CFIDS Association says that other juices can cause problems as well.
Water is the best liquid to use, and some medications (like decongestants) require you to drink lots of water with every dose. Ask your pharmacist about other drug/food/liquid interactions you should know about.
Dispose of medications properly. Make sure you dispose of any medications that are out of date, not working for you, or that your doctor asks you to stop taking.
The risk of drugs entering the soil and water through sewage systems has led to changes in the standard guidance to flush pills and syrups (although there are still some exceptions, especially for controlled substances).
The CFIDS Association recommends to dispose your medications properly by crushing the pills and mixing them with coffee grounds or kitty litter before placing in the trash.