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You may start off taking a couple of prescription medications and then add to your daily regimen an over-the-counter drug such as an allergy pill, a multi-vitamin and an herbal supplement without informing your doctor or pharmacist. I recently heard on the Dr. Oz Show that if you are taking a combination of more than 6 drugs (including prescription, non-prescription and supplements), you have a 94% chance of a drug interaction.

A 2004 report from the CDC found that deaths from accidental drug interactions rose 68% between 1999 and 2004. Unintentional drug poisonings accounted for nearly 20,000 in 2004, said the CDC, making it the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. next to automobile accidents.

As I helped my mother-in-law apply for Medicare last year, I became aware of great service offered by pharmacists and doctors. It’s called a Brown Bag Check-Up. It’s a great way to avoid medication mistakes and cut down on unnecessary medications. You simply gather all of your prescriptions, vitamins, herbal supplements and over-the-counter medications in their original packaging, put them in a bag and take them to your primary care doctor or pharmacist. He/she will:

-Review all of the medications to see if they are the same as those listed on your medical record.
-Double-check the correct dosage strength and how often you take them.
-Make sure you’re not taking anything that is outdated or discontinued.
-Assess whether you are taking more than one drug for the same thing.
-Make sure you’re not taking drugs that cancel each other out or give you too many side effects.

It is very important to have one doctor aware of all of the medications that you take. At the very least, you should have a list of all of the medications and over the counter drugs that you take and share it with each of your health care providers. It is also helpful to fill your prescriptions at a single pharmacy so that the pharmacist can look for drug interactions and duplications.

While it is essential to be in charge of your health care, look for ways in which you can enlist help from others as well.

By Chris Carleton, CFP(r)