Pharmacogenomics pharmacogenetics image

by Leah Samera, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2018

As with most things, when it comes selecting a drug regimen for the treatment of chronic disease, one size does not fit all. If you take medications, you may have wondered why that is the case. One reason is because of pharmacogenomics.

Pharmacogenomics refers to “the entire spectrum of genes that interact to determine drug efficacy and safety.” In practice, many people may use the terms pharmacogenomics and pharmacogenetics interchangeably.

Pharmacogenetics, however, also refers to variants of one gene that affect drug response. The study of both pharmacogenomics and pharmacogenetics can help to optimize drug therapy and minimize drug toxicity based on an individual’s genetic profile.

What is a gene?

A gene is a series of codons that specify a particular protein. Genetic variation may result in altered protein sequence and function or in altered protein levels. This is significant, because these proteins can have an effect on how your body interacts with medications.

How do pharmacogenomic variations affect drug response?

The impact of pharmacogenomic variations on drug response have traditionally been divided into four categories:

  1. Those that affect drug pharmacokinetics. Pharmacokinetics refers to how a medication moves through a person’s body, i.e., how the drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and eliminated.  An example of a genetic variation that affects pharmacokinetics is one in which drug metabolism is altered, subsequently affecting plasma concentration.
  2. Those that effect on pharmacodynamics. Pharmacodynamics refers to a person’s therapeutic response to a medication; this depends on a medication’s affinity and activity at its site of action. An example of a genetic variation that affects pharmacodynamics is one in which binding of a drug to its receptor is reduced, thereby decreasing therapeutic efficacy.
  3. Those that affect idiosyncratic reactions. An idiosyncratic reaction is an adverse reaction to a medication that is both rare and unpredictable. An example of a genetic variation that affects idiosyncratic reactions is one in which the likelihood of a hypersensitivity reaction to a certain drug is increased.
  4. Those that affect disease pathogenesis or severity and response to specific therapies. Pathogenesis refers to the origination and development of a disease. An example of a genetic variation that affects pathogenesis is a specific molecular defect related to the development of certain malignancies for which there are targeted therapies.

How can the study of pharmacogenomics help to optimize your drug therapy and minimize side effects?

Organizations like 23andMe allow people to “access, understand, and benefit” from the study of pharmacogenomics. With their simple home-based saliva collection kits, all you have to do is order their Health + Ancestry service; register, and spit into, the provided tube; and mail the kit back to their lab via the pre-paid package. Next, their lab extracts, processes, and analyzes the DNA from the cells in your saliva. Within 6 to 8 weeks, you get an email notifying you that you can view your results in your online account and discover what your DNA says about you. By sharing those results with your healthcare providers, they then can use that information to ensure that you get the most benefit from your medications while minimizing the risk of side effects.

References:

  1. Cavallari LH, Lam Y. Pharmacogenetics. In: DiPiro JT, Talbert RL, Yee GC, Matzke GR, Wells BG, Posey L. eds. Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiologic Approach, 10e New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; . http://accesspharmacy.mhmedical.com.ezproxy4.library.arizona.edu/content.aspx?bookid=1861&sectionid=146077703. Accessed September 12, 2017.
  2. Roden DM. Pharmacogenetics. In: Brunton LL, Knollmann BC, Hilal-Dandan R. eds. Goodman & Gilman’s: The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 13e New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; . http://accesspharmacy.mhmedical.com.ezproxy4.library.arizona.edu/content.aspx?bookid=2189&sectionid=167889559. Accessed September 12, 2017.
  3. Tantisira K, Weiss ST. Overview of pharmacogenomics. Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. http://www.uptodate.com. Accessed September 13, 2017.
  4. Our Mission. 23andMe.com. https://mediacenter.23andme.com. Accessed September 13, 2017.
  5. How it works. 23andMe.com. https://www.23andme.com/howitworks. Accessed September 13, 2017.
  6. Our science. 23andMe.com. https://www.23andme.com/genetic-science. Accessed September 13, 2017.

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Anxiety medications and children photo

by Jenny Bingham, PharmD

Across the United States, the rate of antidepressant use in children is rising. It has led to prescription costs exceeding $100,000 in the four states with the highest antidepressant prescription rates for children: Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

As the number of antidepressant prescriptions rise, it’s only natural that parents will have a growing number of questions about those medications. Here’s a list of common questions other parents have had when starting pharmacotherapy for their child’s anxiety and/or depression:

How many pills will my child have to take?

The simplest answer is, it depends. Pharmacists are trained to know FDA approved indications for mental health medications. By incorporating pharmacists into the healthcare team, they can help find medications that have dual purposes and decrease the amount of pills in the regimen. Talk to your pharmacist about the medications and if there are alternatives.

How will pharmacotherapy affect my child?

Each patient responds differently to medications. Whereas some patients that are prescribed a common first-line antidepressant (fluoxetine) and tolerate it well, others may have an entirely different reaction. Certain medications can have negative side effects, including:

  • shaking
  • drowsiness
  • weight gain
  • insomnia
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • blurred vision
  • bleeding, and,
  • constipation.

These side effects can be extremely detrimental to a child’s quality of life. It’s important to have open communication with your healthcare provider to ensure that side effects don’t get in the way of medication adherence, school performance, or self-esteem. Current literature provides clinicians a wide variety of information about which side effects are more prominently reported in individual cases. This database of knowledge helps further individualize therapy and avoid potential side effects.

What risks are associated with pharmacotherapy?

Parents should be aware of the potential for abuse, especially with commonly prescribed anxiety medications (ex. alprazolam) that are rated as controlled substances.

Adolescents are at an increased risk of suicidal ideation when initiating certain medications. Family members must be educated on how to monitor, identify, and report these to the provider.

One must also consider the risks of not seeking appropriate treatment, like self-medication with illicit drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. Self-medication can unfavorable effects on one’s mental and physical health.

Are there alternatives to pharmacotherapy?

If a parent decides against using medications, trained therapists can provide alternative options, if appropriate. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common tool that incorporates education, relaxation exercises, coping skills, stress management, and assertiveness training.1

Other approaches include: interpersonal therapy, motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy, supportive therapy, and family therapy. These tools can also be used in combination with medication to improve depression and anxiety. Parents should work closely with their physician to determine if this is a safe option as monotherapy.

Final Thoughts

Decisions about using medications to treat anxiety and/or depression in children must be catered specifically to the patient. It is imperative for health care providers to approach this sensitive topic as a group, including the patient and parents. Pharmacists are a great resource for optimizing medication effectiveness and reducing pill burden.

References:

  1. Beck JS. Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond, 2nd ed, Guilford Press, New York 2011. p.391.

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Dry eye treatment eye drops

by Kali Schweitzer, PharmD candidate 2018
University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

For many people, dry eyes may only be a minor inconvenience. But for those who experience chronic dry eye, it can be a major problem, causing extreme discomfort. Left untreated, dry eye can have long term effects on your vision as well as your quality of life.

What causes dry eyes?

Dry eye occurs when you do not produce enough tears or if you are not producing quality tears.  As a result, there is not enough lubrication for the eye, leading to the gritty, burning, and irritated feeling that is most often associated with this condition.  There are a variety of things that may cause dry eye, including:

  1. Dry climate
  2. Wind
  3. Exposure to smoke
  4. Age
  5. Gender
  6. Certain medications and medical conditions.

For some, dry eye may be unavoidable, which is when finding an effective treatment that is not too costly becomes very important. In fact, one study found that the average direct cost for a patient seeking medical care for dry eye was $738 per year, and the cost to society per patient per year was over $11,000. So, the question is, what are your options if you are one of the millions of people in the United States who suffer from this condition?

Over-the-counter treatment for dry eyes

The key to managing dry eye symptoms and avoiding spending a fortune on prescriptions is to take advantage of the various over-the-counter options available.

The most popular over-the-counter treatment for dry eye is artificial tears, which help to lubricate the eye when you do not have enough tears of your own. There are many different varieties of artificial tears in the pharmacy aisle, and the most important distinction between them is that some are preservative-free while others are not. The preservative-free options tend to be more costly, but they are better for those who have more chronic symptoms because they are less likely to irritate the eyes following frequent use.

Another option that is available without a prescription is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, which helps to increase tear production. Depending on what your doctor determines to be the cause of your dry eyes, they may have other recommendations for you that do not require a prescription for dry eyes.

Home treatment for dry eyes

In addition to over-the-counter medications, there are a number of other things you can try to prevent and/or reduce the symptoms of dry eyes. Some suggestions include blinking regularly, wearing sunglasses outside to protect your eyes, and drinking more water. If eyelid inflammation contributes to your dry eye symptoms, you may consider gently washing your eyelids, which can be done using a mild soap. Applying a warm compress over your eyes may also provide relief.

When do you need a prescription for dry eyes?

If prescription treatment does become a necessity, your doctor will discuss the different options with you. The ones most commonly used are Restasis (cyclosporine), which reduces inflammation, and Xiidra (lifitegrast), which helps you make more, quality tears. Another option is Lacrisert (hydroxypropyl cellulose), which is inserted between the eyeball and lower eyelid and slowly dissolves to release a lubricating substance. For now, these are only available as brand name medications, therefore price may be a barrier depending on your insurance coverage.

Finding the right dry eye treatment

Whether you seldom experience dry eyes or if you have constant symptoms, finding the right treatment is crucial. Dry eye can be irritating, costly, and even life-altering if not controlled. By working with your doctor, your pharmacist, your insurance company, and even prescription savings companies like ScriptSave, you will be in a better position to control your symptoms and save some money in the process.

References:

  1. Yu J, Asche C, Fairchild C. The Economic Burden of Dry Eye Disease in the United States: A Decision Tree Analysis. 2011 April. 30(4):379-387.
  2. https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/dry-eye?sso=y
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20024129
  4. Micromedex

 

 

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Pharmacist help manage epilepsy drugs

by Jenny Bingham, PharmD

Choosing the correct medication to treat epilepsy is a multifaceted process. Pharmacists can have a huge impact on the patient’s therapeutic response as a valued member of the healthcare team. 1

Medications used to treat seizures are called anti-epileptic drugs. Pharmacists review reams of information to ensure medication safety and suitability. The three primary concepts involved in this evaluation include:

  1. Pharmacogenetics – the role of genetic differences on an individual’s response to a drug.
  2. Pharmacokinetics – how a drug moves through the body.
  3. Pharmacodynamics – an individual’s therapeutic response to a drug.

It is important to assess for drug interactions

When medications interact with one another it is called a drug-drug interaction. Medications can enhance the effects of another drug (agonize). They can also block the effects of another drug (antagonize).

Monitoring for kidney or liver function

Medications are either metabolized in the liver or kidneys. If an individual has impaired organ function or damage, it changes how the body responds to that drug. Some medications, like Carbamazepine and Phenytoin may have more of an impact than Gabapentin.

Medications that are metabolized in the liver have an affinity for certain enzymes:

  • If a medication induces a particular enzyme, it can increase the body’s metabolism of it. The result is decreased serum concentration levels, or decreased effects.
  • If a medication inhibits, it can decrease the body’s metabolism of it. The result is an increased serum concentration level. Individuals might experience increased side effects when this happens.

What to expect for the duration of treatment

The goals of treating seizures are:

  1. Improve the patients quality of life; and,
  2. Decrease seizure frequency.

An individual’s type of seizure and previous medical history dictate how long they must take anti-epileptic drug. Patients should only make changes to their medication as directed by their provider.

In general, there is no one size fits all approach to treating seizures. However, pharmacists can prevent medication-related issues by performing a comprehensive safety evaluation as a member of the healthcare team.

References:

  1. Koshy S. Role of pharmacists in the management of patients with epilepsy. Int J Pharm Pract. 2012 Feb; 20 (1):65-8.
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noacs - warfarin alternatives

by Kali Schweitzer, PharmD candidate 2018
University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

Not so long ago, a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation (AFib), deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or pulmonary embolism (PE) meant that a prescription for the blood thinner, warfarin (Coumadin), was likely coming your way. In recent years, multiple other blood thinners have become available, and you may have wondered if any of them could be right for you.

What are NOACs?

The NOACs, or novel oral anticoagulants, are a new breed of blood thinner that have arrived on the market within the last ten years. This class of medications includes:

How are NOACs Different from Warfarin?

Multiple clinical trials comparing these alternative warfarin medications have all shown that the NOACs are just as effective as warfarin, and that they have a similar (or lower) risk of bleeding. Warfarin has been around for decades and has been proven to be both safe and effective at preventing blood clots, but it’s no secret that it has its problems. Here are some key differences to note when comparing the newer anticoagulants with warfarin and when deciding what is right for you:

  1. Warfarin requires frequent trips to the lab to have your INR (international normalized ratio) checked. Also referred to as PT time, Prothrombin time is a blood test that measures how long it takes blood to clot, or how well the medication is working. You may potentially need to change your dose to increase or decrease the clotting time. NOACs do not require lab monitoring or frequent dose changes.
  2. NOACs do not have the high potential to interact with food or other medications like warfarin does, meaning there are fewer restrictions. This means no more worrying about how much salad you can eat on a day-to-day basis, or if you are allowed to have that glass of grapefruit juice in the morning. It is still recommended, however, to check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any new medications, as there are still some medications that may increase your risk of bleeding when taken with the NOACs.
  3. NOACs begin working quickly, while warfarin may take up to a week to start working. Because of this, patients with a DVT or PE starting warfarin may require “bridge” therapy with heparin or enoxaparin (other fast acting blood thinners) to prevent clots while waiting for the warfarin to take effect. This “bridge” therapy is not necessary with the NOACs.
  4. Unlike warfarin, not all of the NOACs have a reliable reversal agent if you were to begin bleeding. With warfarin, if your INR becomes too high or if you are having signs of bleeding, you may be given vitamin K, or phytonadione, to reverse its effects. Currently, Pradaxa is the only NOAC that has an approved reversal agent, called Praxbind (idarucizumab). While bleeding is rare while on the NOACs, the lack of reversal agent is something to keep in mind when deciding which medication may be right for you.
  5. NOACs may not be appropriate if you have decreased kidney and/or liver function. Your doctor will review your labs and information to determine if your kidneys/liver are functioning well enough for you to take one of these medications.

The recent approval of the NOACs has provided prescribers and patients with more options to choose from when a blood thinner is necessary. Because these medications are still relatively new, there is a lot left to learn about their use and limitations, so they may not be appropriate for everyone. It is always important to discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor when starting any of these medications or when switching from one to another.

 

References

Leung LLK, Direct oral anticoagulants and parenteral direct thrombin inhibitors: Dosing and adverse effects. In: UpToDate, Mannucci PM (Ed.), UpToDate, Waltham, MA.

Hanley CM, Kowey PR. Are the novel anticoagulants better than warfarin for patients with atrial fibrillation? Journal of Thoracic Disease. 2015;7(2):165-171. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2015.01.23.


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Zollinger-Ellison syndrome - stomach image

by Derek Matlock, PharmD

What is Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome?

Do you suffer from Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (ZES)? If so, you may be in rare company. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a rare disorder. It occurs in about one in every 1 million people. Normally, when we eat, our body releases a hormone called gastrin, which tells your stomach to make acid to help break down foods and liquids. For patients with ZES, this mechanism is disrupted by tumors or “gastrinomas.” These tumors form in the pancreas or upper small intestine and secrete abnormally large amounts of gastrin from tumors, resulting in peptic ulcers to be formed.

It Might Be Your Genes

Some people with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome may go undiagnosed as the disorder is rare and its cause is not clear. In 75% of cases, ZES is sporadic or random, whereas in 25% it is associated with MEN 1, an inherited condition characterized by pancreatic endocrine tumors, pituitary tumors, and hyperparathyroidism.  Therefore, your doctor may perform a thorough medical and family history to help diagnose ZES. Additional tests may include endoscopy or various imaging and blood tests. They may even measure the amount of acid in your stomach. For patients with sporadic ZES, the most common symptom is abdominal pain. While patients with the inherited form of ZES mostly complain of diarrhea. Other symptoms include, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, stomach bleeding, and weight loss.

Managing Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome

Currently, the goal of managing ZES is to limit complications of the disorder by suppressing acid secretions. Thus, the main medications used in ZES are proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, like omeprazole (Prilosec®) or pantoprazole (Protonix®), prescribed at high doses. For patients who do not respond to treatment with PPIs, octreotide is used, which stops the secretion of gastrin, the hormone that tells our body to secrete acid for food breakdown. Currently, the only cure for ZES is surgical removal of the tumor or tumors, but this may not be an option in cases where the tumors have spread to other parts of the body. In that case, chemotherapy with medications like streptozotocin, 5-fluorouracil, and doxorubicin are used to shrink tumors.

Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is a rare disorder that may be suspected in patients with multiple or repeat peptic ulcers. Currently, medications like proton pump inhibitors are the main treatment option, while surgery and chemotherapy are options in certain patients. Remember, when taking proton pump inhibitors, they are best taken 30-60 minutes before a meal and may also come with their own unfavorable side effects. Be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what can be done to best optimize your treatment options for ZES.

Resources:

  1. Medscape: Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome
  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome
  3. UpToDate: Management and Prognosis of the Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome

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Behavioral health medications for anxiety or depression - image

Jenny Bingham, PharmD
University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

There are a number of mental conditions that shape mood and behavior. Any condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood, falls into a medical classification of Behavioral Health.  Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others, or maintain reasonable function every day. Each person may have different experiences, even if they have the same diagnosis as someone else.

Depression is the most common behavioral health condition in the general population1. Without treatment, depression can lead to decreased quality of life2, increased suicidal thoughts, and overall worsened health outcomes. The most common method of treating depression is to target serotonin and how the body uses it.  Serotonin regulates mood and ultimately is what makes you feel happy. When we have low serotonin levels, you can feel depressed or anxious. Antidepressants each have their own unique mechanism of action that are specific to certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

Anxiety can affect our ability to function due to excessive worry. Without treatment, anxiety can also lead to a worsened quality of life and can even be debilitating for some patients3. Anxiolytics are the medication class used to treat anxiety. The most common method of treating anxiety is to target serotonin and/or norepinephrine.  Norepinephrine is responsible for motor action, cognition, the body’s alert system, and feeling energetic.  When we have low norepinephrine, it is harder to cope with every day stressors and things that are beyond our control.

How do these medications work?  

These medications are often classified as reuptake inhibitors. They target the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, to name a few.  Medications prevent the body from recycling these neurotransmitters. By preventing them from being recycled too soon, it allows the body a better chance to use them to improve mood and/or relieve anxiety.

What can you do to make them work better for you?

We know that the body needs certain building blocks to make serotonin and norepinephrine. An important concept to remember is that no matter how many medications are prescribes to treat these conditions, they don’t stand a chance at being effective without the right precursors; an interesting concept in today’s world. The majority with these conditions take more than one medication.

Step 1: What is your protein source?

The greatest building blocks for serotonin are things that you might already have in your kitchen.

Complete proteins are the main precursor for tryptophan, which is later turned into serotonin. You might think that tryptophan only comes from turkey on Thanksgiving, but did you know that you can also get it from eating beef, venison, buffalo, pork, fish, shellfish, cheese, cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, and eggs? 

The building blocks for norepinephrine are also found in your kitchen.

In addition to eating complete proteins, it’s also important to eat incomplete proteins as well. You can find these in nuts, grains, beans, legumes, and soy.

Step 2: What else is included on your meal plan?

When we think about serotonin building blocks, key vitamins play an important role as well.

  • Vitamin B6. Great nutritional sources of this vitamin are found in whole grains, vegetables, and nuts.
  • Vitamin B12. This vitamin is found in meats, fish, liver, and milk.
  • Folic acid and Vitamin D3 are often found in fortified foods.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids are found in fish, dairy, and grains.

Step 3: Don’t forget about your supplements and vitamins.

Over-the-counter supplements can help you fulfill your dietary need of the vitamins mentioned above. But, there is a caveat.  Did you know that you can actually take “too much” of a vitamin? When in doubt always review your supplements and medications with your pharmacist for safe use.

As a patient, take comfort knowing that you can control how well your medications work for you. You are the rate limiting factor in the equation. These simple modifications can make a world of difference with managing depression and anxiety. After all, the best investment you’ll ever make is in yourself.

References:

  1. Kessler RC, Ormel J, Petukhova M, et al. Development of lifetime comorbidity in the World Health Organization world mental health surveys. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2011; 68:90.
  2. Daly EJ, Trivedi MH, Wisniewski SR, et al. Health-related quality of life in depression: a STAR*D report. Ann Clin Psychiatry 2010; 22:43. 
  3. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, et al. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2005; 62:617.

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Is your blood pressure too high?

by Rick Lasica, PharmD
Post-Graduate Year 1 Resident

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects nearly 1 in every 3 adults in the United States. Hypertension is often referred to as the “silent killer,”  because for the most part, hypertension doesn’t have any warning signs or symptoms. You might not even know you have it. If left untreated, hypertension increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So when is high blood pressure too high?

Blood Pressure by the Numbers

Blood pressure is reported as two numbers: systolic blood pressure (top number) and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number). Systolic pressure is the pressure of your blood against the walls of your heart when it beats, while diastolic pressure is when it rests (between beats). Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 and pre-hypertension (the range before an actual diagnosis of hypertension) is between 120-139 for the top number and 80-89 for the bottom number. A consistent blood pressure reading of 140/90 or greater means you have hypertension.

Preventing and Treating Hypertension

Luckily, there are many ways to prevent and treat hypertension. Lifestyle factors such as smoking tobacco, eating foods high in sodium, not exercising enough, being obese, and drinking alcohol, all increase the likelihood of developing hypertension. These are manageable risk factors that should be minimized or avoided. If all of these lifestyle factors for hypertension are modified in a positive manner and your blood pressure is still high, your doctor might start you on a medication to help it stay controlled. There are several classes of hypertension medications, all of which work differently in the body. Each class of medications works differently to lower your blood pressure, and has unique side effects you should be aware of. Your doctor or pharmacist can discuss these with you.

Common High Blood Pressure Medications

The angiotensin II receptor blocker Valsartan (Diovan) is one of the top high blood pressure medications, followed by the beta blocker Metoprolol Hydrocholorothiazide (Lopressor HCT), Olmesartan (Benicar), and Olmesartan and HCTZ (Benicar HCT).

Other frequently prescribed high blood pressure medications are the ACE inhibitor, Lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), Amlodipine besylate (Norvasc), a calcium channel blocker, and the generic diureticHydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ).

See Your Doctor for High Blood Pressure

It’s important to see your healthcare provider regularly so that they can monitor your blood pressure. Let them know all of the medications you are taking, including anything that doesn’t require a prescription, such as herbals and supplements, since these might be contributing to your high blood pressure. Also, if a new medication to treat your high blood pressure is needed, they will work with you to find a blood pressure medication that doesn’t interact with a medication you might already be taking.

By working with your healthcare provider, you can keep your blood pressure under control to help ensure a long and healthy life!

Resources:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Mayo Clinic
  3. WebMD

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transitions of care home health image

“It all started with pain radiating down my left arm. It was hard to breathe and I was short of breath. I knew something was wrong and called 911. I was rushed to the hospital. I remember the sirens, but they slowly faded away. Then I woke up. There was a man in a white coat telling me that I’d had a heart attack. He handed me some medicine bottles and prescriptions. Before you know it, I was discharged and on my way home.”

This was how Nancy described her heart attack. After several days in the hospital,  Nancy was discharged home, and now has to take four new medications every day. That can add up to a lot of out-of-pocket expense.

This scenario happens all too often, and through an unfortunate set of events, Nancy was re-admitted into the hospital just three weeks later.

Moving Through the Healthcare System

Transition of Care (TOC) is the movement of a patient from one setting of care (hospital, ambulatory primary care practice, ambulatory specialty care practice, long-term care, home health, rehabilitation facility) to another.1 This definition by The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) describes the process of a patient navigating the health care system and the unfortunate, but common reality that gaps in care develop between the hospital and outpatient setting.

A Growing Healthcare Need

This area of healthcare is expanding and becoming more important to help reduce readmission rates and the cost of healthcare. Pharmacists are expanding their roles by providing TOC services to patients newly diagnosed with specific conditions and/or a flare-up of a chronic condition or disease. Quite often will a patient’s medication therapy change upon admittance to a hospital and then at discharge from the hospital. They may be prescribed new medications after a hospital stay. The goal is to ensure the continuity of care for patient and help fill the gap, by:

  • Providing education about a condition
  • Monitoring a condition
  • Helping patients understand their medication.

Why Transition of Care Matters

Helping patients understand their prescription medications allows them to get the most benefit from them, and, to understand why it is important to take their medications as prescribed. Helping patients save on prescription medication costs is what ScriptSave WellRx does.

It is not just pharmacists that are expanding into this role, but other health care professionals like nurses, doctors, and case managers, too. It takes a care team effort and patient-centric approach to ensure that each patient is getting the best, high-quality care available.

 

References:

https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Legislation/EHRIncentivePrograms/downloads/8_Transition_of_Care_Summary.pdf


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prescription savings pill-splitting - wellrx

by Hayde Blanco, PharmD Candidate
University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

Pill splitting refers to breaking a pill down to obtain a smaller amount of the whole pill. Your doctor can write a prescription that is usually double the dosage of what you should take in one day. You can then cut the pill in half, making the smaller dose that should actually be taken. For instance, a medication might be prescribed for 40 mg, but then the pill is split so you actually end up taking 20 mg.

Why Split Pills?

Pill splitting can be a huge help in cost savings if the same amount of the larger and smaller doses are sold at a similar price. Some of the most common reasons for pill splitting are:

  • Reduce the costs associated with a medication
  • Take a dosage of a drug that is not already available.

These methods can be useful to help some people save on their prescription medications, but are not suitable for everyone or for every type of pill. There are some risk factors that should be taken into consideration before splitting any pills.

Pill Splitting Concerns

When a pill is split, there may be different amounts in each half of the pill. Since the active ingredient in each pill is not usually evenly distributed throughout the pill, this may lead to one half containing more of the active ingredient than the other, giving it more potency. Some pills may be hard to split due to having an unusual shape, being too hard, or crumbling easily. There are also some medications that should never be split.

Pharmaceutical companies create some pills that are scored, meaning that they have a line down the middle to make it easier to split.

pill splitting sertaline
This pill is generic sertraline 100mg (an antidepressant) with a line down the middle. Generic pricing for 30 tablets of 100mg averages about $11.50. Generic pricing for 30 tablets of 50mg averages about $10.00. By cutting the 100mg dose in half, you would save close to half of the cost.

Some of the risk of pill splitting is related to the individual, instead of being related to the pill. A common issue is forgetting to split a pill, which could lead to taking double the amount of the prescribed dose. The directions might also be unclear if the bottle says to take one daily, but your doctor says to take one-half daily. You should always verify with your doctor if you are not sure about the prescription dosage you should be taking.

​Although there are risks involved with pill spitting, it can be an appropriate cost saving technique for some people. If pills are being split, there are some recommendations that should be followed to reduce the risks.

What are the Risks?

Some of the risk can be related to the individual instead of being related to the pill. A common issue is forgetting to split a pill, which could lead to taking twice or more of the needed dose. The directions might also be unclear if the bottle says to take one daily, but your doctor says to take one-half daily. Always verify with your doctor if you are not sure how much you should be taking.

​Although there are risks involved with pill spitting it can be an appropriate cost saving technique for some people. If pills are being split, there are some recommendations that should be followed to reduce the risks.

Splitting Pills Safely

  1. Always discuss your choices with a pharmacist or doctor before deciding to split a pill.
  2. Have a general understanding of which pills are appropriate to split and which are not.
  3. Use an appropriate pill cutter. Using a pill cutter instead of a knife or other object cuts the pill more evenly and leads to better distribution of the active ingredient.
  4. Cut the pills right before taking them instead of cutting them all at the same time. Since the distribution of the active ingredient is often not the same on both sides, taking both halves on consecutive days allows for a more even intake of the active ingredient. Additionally, a medication might not be as effective at treating your symptoms when it is broken down and exposed to air and moisture over time.
  5. Make sure you are can put this into practice safely or have someone help you if you can’t. If you have any problems with memory, trouble using your hands, or do not think you would be able to split the pills on an ongoing basis this will not be an appropriate technique to use.

These medications are usually appropriate to split, but always check with your pharmacist or doctor if it is okay to split your medication:

  • High blood pressure medications
  • High cholesterol medications (statins, like Lipitor, Crestor, or Zocor)
  • Depression medications.

These pills should not be split:

  • Capsules
  • Enteric-coated medications
  • Extended release or long acting medications
  • Combination pills containing more than one drug
  • Prepackaged pills, like birth control
  • Certain classes of medications, such as chemotherapy drugs
  • Pills with a small therapeutic index (these pills need to be taken at a very precise dose because they can lead to side effects more easily if more than the prescribed dose is taken or they might not be as effective if too little is taken).

Always remember to talk to your healthcare provider to be sure it’s appropriate for you to split a certain pill before using this cost saving technique. When done correctly, pill splitting can be a safe and effective method to reduce prescription medication costs.

 

References:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/tablet-splitting-risky-practice-stuart-silverman

http://www.consumerreports.org/drugs/is-it-safe-to-split-pills-in-half/

http://www.consumerreports.org/drugs/get-the-right-pill-splitter-and-save-money-on-your-medication/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2827917/


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