By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
For over 24 years, Trang Le has helped patients find the best medication and treatment for their health needs.
Le is the lead pharmacist in the primary care senior health clinic at Overlake Hospital, where she has worked for two decades. It’s an outpatient clinic and they serve the geriatric population—ages 65 and older.
Le was born during the Vietnam War and seeing the effects—the wounded, deaths, the fear, and the uncertainty—inspired her to help people.
She wanted to continue to grow in her role. Le recently went back to school to obtain her doctorate degree in pharmacy from the University of Florida, in addition to her other degree from the University of Washington.
“Medicine is changing every day. Going back to school allows me to be a more confident pharmacist. We work together with providers to find the best and safest medication therapies based on clinical trials, and evidence-based medicine to keep up with what’s changing. ”
Serving the aging community
Le explained that Overlake had a few patients over 100 years old.
“People are living longer and longer every day, so of course they’ll have more illnesses. My job is to make sure they’re given the appropriate medication to help with their health conditions,” she said.
In general, Le’s job is to improve and promote patient safety by making sure patients have the correct drugs and working with the doctors to find the most appropriate and cost-effective therapy treatments.
Le said that in patients, they see a lot of dementia, memory loss, falls, fractures, and also chronic conditions, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
She also tries to find medication therapies that will be less likely to cause sedation, so as to decrease falls and fractures.
Sometimes patients also have psychological issues that are associated with dementia, such as sundowning, agitation, and confusion. Other common issues include adult neglect and emotional issues.
Le added that the most commonly prescribed medications are to regulate blood pressure. Cholesterol medication is also common to help prevent strokes and heart disease.
The most commonly abused drugs are pain and anxiety medications. Drug abuse is common among teens. According to the Food and Drug Administration, teenagers can intentionally take medicines out of the home medicine cabinet and share it with their friends at a “pharm party.” Severe overdoses can lead to permanent brain damage and death.
In addition, thousands of children accidentally ingest prescription drugs every year. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, medication is the leading cause of poisoning in kids—leading to the death of a child every 12 days.
Kids likely get curious and think medication is candy.
Medication storage tips
Lock up your medicine cabinet. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), 6.2 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs, a majority of which were taken from family and friends. Consider keeping the Poison Center Hotline number handy, either programmed in your phone or on a sticker in your cabinet: 800-222-1222.
Medication is best kept in a dry and cool place unless the drug manufacturer states otherwise. For example, insulin needs to be refrigerated and it is good for about 28 days depending on the product.
Le doesn’t recommend storing medication in bathroom cabinets because of the heat, humidity, and steam from the shower.
Choose a cabinet in your home that is up high. If you choose to store medicines in the kitchen, make sure they are out of reach of children, even if they were to climb up on a countertop or chair.
“Medication doesn’t last longer if stored in the fridge, the cold can actually degrade the medication faster. When the drug company makes the drug, they actually put the drug at a certain temperature and monitor for degradation,” she said.
Le said that sometimes people forget to put away their medication after they take it and end up leaving it out, thinking that it’s more convenient, but that’s where accidents can occur.
Organize your medications by category
Le advised using a pill organizer to keep everything separate and to keep children and infant medication separate from adult medication. Le said that she’s had people keep pet medication and their medication together in one place, which is not advised.
“I recommend separating your prescription medications from over-the-counter medicines. I suggest separating eye drops from other drops, such as for the ear. In my practice, I have seen patients make the mistake of putting the wrong type of drop in the wrong place,” she said.
Organizing by category is also beneficial as you may see that you have several ibuprofen bottles, for instance. Don’t combine them into one as they likely have different expiration dates. By organizing them correctly, you can make a point of using up the ones that are set to expire sooner.
Other things to watch out for
Le advises that if patients see anything floating in liquid medication, they should return it to the pharmacy.
“Never drink liquid from the bottle and always use the measuring device that comes with the liquid, whether it’s a syringe, cup, or spoon,” she said.
In addition, if the pill looks different in shape or color than what you’re used to, contact the pharmacy to ensure it’s the right drug. If a bottle or box has been tampered with or the seal is open, take it back to the pharmacy.
It’s also important to make sure you don’t take medication in the dark so that you don’t mistakenly take the wrong ones.
All medications have an expiration date and once it leaves the pharmacy, they last for one year. “Once the medication leaves the pharmacy, we don’t know how people store it. If they leave it in the car or if people leave it out in the freezing cold, the drug’s efficacy after that cannot be guaranteed.”
On the other hand, vitamins and herbal supplements don’t follow the same rules or regulations as prescription drugs, Le explained.
“Expired medicines may not provide the treatment you or your family needs. Also, fewer medicines in the home means fewer safety risks. Many pharmacies in the area offer safe medicine disposal,” Le said.
To dispose of your expired medicines safely, go to takebackday.dea.gov.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.