medications can increase your fall risk - scriptsave wellrx blog image

by Roxanna Orsini
PharmD Candidate Class of 2019, University of Arizona

Falls Happen More Often Than You Think

Every year there are millions of falls occurring in the older population, aged 65 and older.2 About 1 out of 4 older people fall each year, with less than half reporting it to their doctor.2 Your chances of a recurrent fall doubles after your first fall. The emergency department (ED) treats about 3 million older individuals for fall injuries each year.2 The most common injuries seen in the ED after a fall includes fractures, superficial injuries, and head injuries.(2,3) Patients have reported a reduction in their quality of life up to 9 months after being admitted in the ED for a fall.3

After a fall you may develop a fear of falling. This can cause negative health effects including:3

  • Recurrent falls
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Restriction or avoidance of social activities
  • Depression/anxiety

Are You at Risk for a Fall?

Here are a few questions to help you determine if you are at risk of a fall:5

  • Do you rush to use the bathroom?
  • Do you take a medication to help you sleep or improve your mood?
  • Do you take a medication that sometimes makes you feel light-headed or more tired than usual?
  • Do you use or have been advised to use a cane or walker?
  • Have you lost some feeling in your feet?
  • Do you feel unsteady when walking at times?
  • Have you had a previous fall?

Answering yes to any of these questions should warrant a conversation with your doctor about getting screened for your risk of falling.

There are certain chronic medical conditions that can contribute to your chances of a fall such as arthritis, dementia, stroke, cataracts, Parkinson’s disease, and urinary incontinence.1 Some of the medications used for these health conditions can increase your risk of a fall. However, falls can be caused by almost any medication that effects your brain or blood circulation.

Some Medications Can Increase the Risk of a Fall

A few medications that can increase your risk of a fall include:3

Most of these medications can decrease your alertness, cause fatigue, dizziness, and drop your blood pressure when you stand up (also referred to as postural hypotension).1

Postural hypotension occurs in about 30% of older adults and may experience one of these symptoms within 1 minute to several minutes of standing up:4

  • Lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

If you are taking any of these medications, experiencing any of these symptoms or taking more than 6 medications, talk to your doctor about your risk for a fall.4 Your doctor may need to reduce or change your medication to help reduce your symptoms and fall risk, never make any changes to your medication without consulting your doctor first.

Balance, medications, and home safety should be addressed in everyone at high risk.4 To help maintain the highest level of mobility and reduce your chances of falling or risk of injury, follow up with your doctor. Your doctor can provide tips and recommend exercises designed to prevent falls and help avoid unnecessary trips to the Emergency Department.

 

References:

  1. Berg, R. and Cassells, J. (1992). Falls in Older Persons: Risk Factors and Prevention. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235613/ [Accessed 18 Jul. 2018].
  2. gov. (2018). Important Facts about Falls | Home and Recreational Safety | CDC Injury Center. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html [Accessed 20 Jul. 2018].
  3. de Jong, M., Van der Elst, M. and Hartholt, K. (2013). Drug-related falls in older patients: implicated drugs, consequences, and possible prevention strategies. Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, 4(4), pp.147-154.
  4. Phelan, E., Mahoney, J., Voit, J. and Stevens, J. (2015). Assessment and Management of Fall Risk in Primary Care Settings. Medical Clinics of North America, 99(2), pp.281-293.
  5. Sri‐on, J., Tirrell, G., Kamsom, A., Marill, K., Shankar, K. and Liu, S. (2018). A High‐yield Fall Risk and Adverse Events Screening Questions From the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Death, and Injuries (STEADI) Guideline for Older Emergency Department Fall Patients. Academic Emergency Medicine.

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imprtance of iodine - scriptsave wellrx blog image

by Marcus Harding
PharmD Candidate Class of 2019, University of Arizona

What is Iodine and why is it important?

You may be wondering, “Why do I need iodine in my salt or other food?” Iodine is an essential element our bodies need that we cannot produce on our own, and therefore need to get it from food sources1. Iodine is needed to produce the thyroid hormone, which is important for bodily functions related to metabolism and how our cells use the energy they are given1. Iodine is found in foods such as cheese, milk, eggs, ice cream, saltwater fish, iodized table salt and some multivitamins1. Most people get their daily intake of iodine from iodized table salt1. There is, however, a large population of people who have heart disease or high blood pressure, who are asked by their doctors to not consume as much salt as others.

Who should reduce their salt intake and by how much?

iodized salt - scriptsave wellrx blog image

Heart disease and high blood pressure afflict a large percent of the U.S. population today. The American Heart Association’s (AHA) Heart disease and Stroke Statistics of 2018 estimates that 31.1% of the world’s population has high blood pressure, and they predict that by 2035, more than 45% of the US population will have some form of cardiovascular disease2. It is because of these abnormally high numbers that the AHA has diet and lifestyle recommendations for being “heart healthy,” that they recommend to everyone, not just people who have heart disease or high blood pressure.

One such recommendation is to reduce the amount of sodium consumed each day. Sodium can cause water retention in your body, increasing blood pressure and making your heart work harder than it needs to3. The average American consumes more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. The AHA recommends having less than 1,500 milligrams per day3. For reference, 1 teaspoon is about 2,300 mg of salt. The AHA reports that the body really only needs about 500 milligrams per day, so eating a heart healthy diet will still get you enough sodium to meet the daily requirements3.

How do I get enough Iodine on a low sodium diet?

So, what can you do to make sure you get enough iodine daily, while eating a heart healthy diet?  It is simple. The body needs 150 micrograms of iodine per day1. For reference, a teaspoon of iodized salt contains about 400 micrograms of iodine1. If you wanted to cut out salt in your diet and be under 1500 milligrams of salt per day, that is still at least 260 micrograms of iodine per day, which is greater than the 150 micrograms a day that your body needs. Keep in mind that the majority of people in the US are getting such large amounts of sodium through salty snacks, processed meats, and the typical “unhealthy foods” that the AHA is trying to help people avoid. Make sure that the sodium you do consume is iodized so that you are reaching that 150-microgram daily recommendation.

Overall, there is no need to fear not getting enough iodine while restricting sodium in your diet, as long as you make sure the salt you eat is iodized, and not coming from processed meats, potato chips and other salty snacks. Following the American Heart Association’s recommendations, you should still be getting more than the recommended daily amount of iodine. If you are concerned about the amount of iodine in your diet, there are multivitamins out there that contain 150 micrograms that can be taken daily.  As always, if you have any questions or concerns, your local pharmacist is well equipped to answer your questions and help guide you in the right direction.

 

References

  1. “Iodine Deficiency.” American Thyroid Association, http://thyroid.org/iodine-deficiency/.
  2. Benjamin, Emelia J, et all. “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics— 2018 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association.” American Heart Association, 2 Mar. 2017, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/137/12/e67.
  3. “How Much Sodium Should I Eat per Day?” Sodium Breakup, http://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/how_much_sodium_should_i_eat.

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Walmart Announces New Opioid Rules - pill image WellRx

On May 7, 2018, Walmart issued a press release to announce the pending introduction (within 60 days) of new restrictions on how it will fill prescriptions for opioid medications. These new initiatives will apply to all Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies and pharmacists in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Walmart indicated that these changes are “an effort to continue to be part of the solution to our nation’s opioid epidemic,” and it reflects a further expansion of the company’s Opioid Stewardship Initiative. The move from Walmart follows a similar initiative by CVS that went into effect in February. Increasingly, retail pharmacies are stepping up efforts to stem the spread of opioid addiction, prevent overdoses and curb over-prescribing by doctors.

What Doctors Need to know, and What it Means for Patients with Legitimate Prescriptions

Walmart is the fourth-largest pharmacy chain in the US and these changes (being introduced over the course of a 60-day period) are likely to touch a number of patients. The retailer will move to restrict initial acute opioid prescriptions to no more than a seven-day supply, while also limiting a day’s total dose to no more than the equivalent of 50 morphine milligrams. Meanwhile, in states where the law for fills on new acute opioid prescriptions is less than seven days, Walmart and Sam’s Club will follow state law.

In addition to these immediate-term changes, by January 1, 2020, Walmart and Sam’s Club will require e-prescriptions for controlled substances.

In terms of patients needing acute or short-time pain management, in the event that the pain lasts longer than a seven-day supply (and still warrants treatment with these medications), the patient will have to consult his/her physician in order to obtain a new prescription.

Such restrictions have prompted concern that requiring patients to obtain a new prescription after seven, or sometimes only three days (depending on the state), can become too costly due to mandatory co-pays. Dr. Steven Stanos, former president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine explained that the organization applauds “any action that seeks to limit the over-prescription of opioids,” but added, “That needs to be balanced with the very real need of patients.”

For this reason, doctors and patients should be engaging in dialog about current and alternative medications and possible savings options, as they formulate a strategy for effective pain management.


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Serotonin Syndrome - WellRx blog image

by Bhargavi Jayaraman, PharmD Candidate

A Challenging Diagnosis, but What is Serotonin1?

The varying symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome can be difficult to diagnose. Early serotonin syndrome symptoms, including diarrhea, high blood pressure, anxiety and agitation, can be easily confused with less serious conditions. Serotonin is a chemical produced by the nerve cells that acts on almost every part of the body. It’s helps with sleeping, eating, digestion, and is considered to be a natural mood stabilizer. It also helps reduce depression and anxiety, heal wounds, stimulate nausea and maintain bone health. When your serotonin levels are normal, you should feel happier, more calm, emotionally stable, less anxious, and more focused. A deficiency of serotonin would make you experience anxiety and/or insomnia. Many people who experience depression, anxiety, or need mood stabilizers take medications that help to increase serotonin levels in the body.

Medications That Increase Your Serotonin Levels2

With the proliferation of antidepressant drugs on the market, there is an increasing number of medications that can raise your body’s serotonin levels. But it’s not just antidepressants that can have this impact. Medications that increase serotonin levels in the body include:

Too Much of Something is Never Good

If serotonin has so many benefits to the mood and can help everyone in their daily functioning, shouldn’t we all want to take as many serotonin increasing medications as possible? The answer is no. Too much of any chemical compound in our body is never a good thing. Serotonin syndrome occurs when medications cause an accumulation of a high level of serotonin in the body. Symptoms of too much serotonin in the body can range from mild to severe, and severe serotonin syndrome can be fatal if not treated1.

What are the Symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome2?

There are no tests to diagnose serotonin syndrome1. Instead, your doctor might perform a physical exam and ask you some questions to diagnose serotonin syndrome. Due to the lack of diagnostic criteria, the exact prevalence of serotonin syndrome is unknown, however, it is known to be an extremely rare condition. So if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, it’s important that you don’t stop taking any of your medications, but rather, make an appointment to see your doctor to rule out serotonin syndrome.

Mild symptoms of serotonin syndrome may include:

  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of muscle coordination or twitching muscles
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Heavy sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Shivering
  • Goosebumps

More severe symptoms of serotonin syndrome may include:

  • High fever
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness

Prevention is Key2

Taking more than one drug that increases serotonin levels, or increasing the dose of one of these medications, can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. Make sure your doctor is aware of all the medications you are taking, and discuss any risks and concerns with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you understand how the medications can interact.

How Can You Naturally Increase Your Serotonin Levels1?

Since serotonin offers so many benefits to your mood and health, you may want to consider ways to naturally increase your serotonin levels. Some ways to stimulate natural production of serotonin include:

  • Exposure to light: sunshine or bright light to treat seasonal depression can raise your serotonin levels.
  • Exercise: getting regular exercise can help to elevate your mood and offers other health benefits!
  • A healthy diet: including foods that can help to increase serotonin levels, like eggs, cheese, turkey, salmon, nuts, tofu, and pineapple, can elevate your natural serotonin supply.
  • Meditation: helps to relieve stress and promotes a positive outlook on life, thereby increasing your serotonin levels.

References:

  1. Scaccia A. Serotonin: What You Need to Know. Healthline Newsletter. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin. Published May 18, 2017. Accessed February 10, 2018.
  2. Serotonin syndrome. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/serotonin-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20354758. Published January 20, 2017. Accessed February 10, 2018.

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asthma inhaler image

by Tek Neopaney

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airway tubes of the lungs. During asthma attacks, the walls inside of the airway become sore, swollen, and red and produce mucus, making it harder to breathe. The airway tubes become very sensitive when they are inflamed and may react strongly to allergens. Air movement in and out of the lungs is constricted when inflammation is present, resulting in shortness of breath.

What Makes Asthma Worse?

There are many triggers of asthma. Common inhaled allergens that you may encounter at a daycare, home, school or work can trigger an asthma attack. Some avoidable allergens include mold, excretions from dust mites, cockroaches, and mice.

It’s common for many patients with high blood pressure to also have asthma. Some of the most effective and proven blood pressure medications are known to cause negative effects in people with asthma, so care is required in developing effective treatment plans.

Of the many different drugs available for treating hypertension, beta blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors have the most potential to cause problems for asthma patients.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are medications commonly used for pain. However, NSAIDs, like naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Motrin) can sometimes make asthma symptoms worse. Other body reactions, including upper airway illness, hormonal fluctuation, and extreme emotions, can trigger asthma attacks.

How Can You Control Your Asthma?

Influenza can worsen asthma symptoms and cause complications, so it’s important to get a flu vaccine annually. The best way to treat asthma is identifying and avoiding triggers, taking medication regularly in order to prevent symptoms, and treating asthma episodes as they occur. Home monitoring of the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) can be very helpful, because it measures the airflow through airway and thus the degree of obstruction of airways. A peak flow meter is inexpensive and an easy way to assess asthma control.

Symptoms of Uncontrolled Asthma

If you have any of the following symptoms it’s considered uncontrolled asthma:

  • Coughing, wheezing, rapid breathing, or tightness of the chest experienced daily
  • Nighttime awakening more than twice a week
  • Need to use a short acting inhaler more than twice a week
  • If the asthma symptom is interfering with normal activities

Medications Used in Asthma Treatment

Long acting anticholinergic agents or beta agonists are the mainstay of asthma therapy. Common medications include:

These medications should be used regular for asthma control. Often, these medications can be combined. For example, in case of severe asthma, patients are often prescribed Acidinium and formoterol fumarate to use together on a regular basis.

Short acting inhalers, sometimes called rescue inhalers, are used for immediate symptomatic control:

How Do Asthma Medications Work?

Long acting anticholinergic agents work by competitively inhibiting the action of airway constriction. Short acting inhalers help to open up the airways by relaxing muscles of airway tubes.

Making an Asthma Action Plans

When you have asthma, your goal is to have a normal active life, and good control of your asthma. If your asthma is not well controlled, you may need to increase your medication and learn more about what triggers your asthma attacks. Your physician and pharmacist can provide you with information and an action plan to take care of your condition, so you can continue to be active and healthy.

References:

  1. Bateman, Eric D., et al. “Overall asthma control: the relationship between current control and future risk.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 125.3 (2010): 600-608.
  2. Kew, K. M., & Dahri, K. (2016). Long-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMA) added to combination long-acting beta2-agonists and inhaled corticosteroids (LABA/ICS) versus LABA/ICS for adults with asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1).
  3. Friedman, B. C., & Goldman, R. D. (2010). Influenza vaccination for children with asthma. Canadian Family Physician56(11), 1137-1139.
  4. Zheng, T., Yu, J., Oh, M. H., & Zhu, Z. (2011). The atopic march: progression from atopic dermatitis to allergic rhinitis and asthma. Allergy, asthma & immunology research3(2), 67-73.

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Medication for insomnia image

by Alyssa Kasher, PharmD Candidate 2018
University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

Sleep is a precious commodity that everyone needs to function. Individual sleep needs are different; some people need a few extra hours while others need less. Some people are light sleepers, while others “sleep like logs.” Sleep habits can also change temporarily, for example during college or after a baby is born. Despite varying needs, all people need adequate sleep to function. Sleep loss negatively affects work performance, mood and overall health. In light of this, it is important to identify factors that are causing you to lose sleep. It’s important to speak with your doctor to see if ongoing sleep problems are caused by clinical insomnia.

How do I know it’s clinical insomnia?

Clinical insomnia is diagnosed by having all of the following 3 conditions1:

  1.       Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early
  2.       The above difficulty occurs even with plenty of time to sleep in an ideal environment
  3.       Sleep loss causes decreased function during the daytime

What causes insomnia?

Historically, insomnia has been viewed as a condition that occurs secondary to another disease or condition. Recent studies show us that insomnia does occur by itself without any identifiable reasons1. You should still check with your doctor to see if another medication you take or condition you have is causing insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia

First line treatment for insomnia includes behavioral counseling and improving sleep hygiene. For information on non-drug therapies, check out our previous blog post written by Jenny Bingham, PharmDShould you and your doctor decide to use medication to treat insomnia, it is important to tell your doctor about other medication you are taking as well as any conditions you have.

Over the Counter Medications

  • Antihistamines purchased over the counter are commonly used to induce sleep as they can cause drowsiness1. While they are helpful, these medications should only be used short term. If your problems with sleep continue, you should consult with your doctor to ensure you get the appropriate treatment.

Prescription Medications

  • Non-benzodiazepines include other sleep drugs with varying mechanisms. They differ from benzodiazepines in that they usually have less anti-anxiety effects. Some of these drugs are approved only for short term use; while drugs formulated as extended release are better suited for long term use1.
  • Antidepressants can be used for sleep as many of them have a sedating effect. These are particularly useful in people who concurrently suffer from depression or anxiety, because the drug is also treating a potential cause of insomnia. The only antidepressant specifically FDA approved for insomnia is Silenor (doxepin) 1.
  • Other drugs are used for insomnia that have unique mechanisms
    • Rozerem (ramelteon) is a drug that encourages your body to release melatonin, which makes you sleepy. It has less side effects and less addiction potential than other drug types. It is also not a controlled substance.
    • Belsomra (suvorexant) is a first of its kind drug that blocks molecules in your brain that encourage wakefulness1. Because it has a long half-life, it can still cause day time drowsiness. It is a controlled substance due to abuse potential.

General Considerations

  • Sleep medications can make you drowsy, dizzy or experience day time sedation.
  • Many medications used to treat insomnia have a potential to be habit forming. They may also worsen insomnia if stopped suddenly. Use them exactly as directed by your doctor.
  • Sleep medications can impair your ability to perform tasks, so it is crucial to only take them once you are ready for bed. Do not use alcohol as impairment may be worsened.

Considerations in the Elderly

  • Since most sleep medications cause drowsiness to induce sleep, they can be especially dangerous when used in the elderly. This is true of both over the counter sleep medications (like diphenhydramine) as well as prescription drugs. This drowsiness can cause confusion, memory issues and serious falls. Consult your pharmacist or doctor before starting sleep medication.

 

References:

  1. Arand DL, Bonnet MH. Treatment of insomnia in adults. In: Basow DS, ed., UpToDate. Waltham (MA): UpToDate; 2016

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Rhabdomyolisis can cause muscle cramps, particularly in the legs.

by Sapna S. Patel, PharmD (2017)

For many who have been diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia, commonly known as high cholesterol, changes in diet and exercise may not be enough. If your doctor has prescribed a statin medication to lower your cholesterol, you may have heard or read about the potential side effects of statin drugs and their impact on liver function.

Doctors will often prescribe statins to lower the total cholesterol and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke in people with high cholesterol levels. While statins are highly effective, they have been linked to muscle pain in some people, and in rare cases, even cause liver damage.

So what is rhabdomyolysis?Coca-Cola colored urine caused by rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis is a severe, debilitating muscle pain (interferes with your ability to perform normal daily tasks) due to muscle damage and breakdown. This causes your damaged muscle to release their proteins into your bloodstream, become eliminated through your kidneys (ultimately leading to your kidney(s) shutting down), and appearing in your urine (which explains why the urine color of a patient experiencing rhabdomyolysis is referred to as “Coca-Cola” or “reddish-brown” color).

Some common statin medications are:

Statin medications can be very beneficial to your health. Statins can decrease the amount of “bad” cholesterol, which can clog your arteries, preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching essential organs. Decreasing your “bad” cholesterol can lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Ultimately, this leads to living a longer and healthier life.

The majority of Patients benefit from using statin medications if indicated by their physician. Less than 3% of patients on statins report muscle pain while less than 0.5% report rhabdomyolysis. So, don’t stop using your statin medication until your physician confirms this side effect.

Common Symptoms of Rhabdomyolysis are:

In the larger muscle groups, like your thighs, shoulders, lower back, and calves:

  • Muscle tenderness
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness/fatigue
  • Muscle Stiffness
  • Muscle Cramping

Other signs of rhabdomyolysis are:

  • “Coca-Cola” or “reddish-brown” urine
  • Skin changes (discoloration or blisters)

How do I know if a statin medication is causing my symptoms?

Ask your Physician for bloodwork to check for abnormal Creatinine Kinase (CK, CPK) levels, liver function, and kidney function tests. These labs are not routinely checked during bloodwork.

Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis usually occur 4-6 weeks after first starting on a statin medication. However, they can occur years after being on a statin medication, so it’s important to always be aware of the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis.

If your only symptom is muscle pain, think about other reasons why your muscles may be painful, sore, stiff, or crampy. Could it be due to unusual physical activity such as hiking up a new trail, shoveling the driveway after a massive snowstorm, or trying a vigorous exercise routine, like spin cycling or high intensity interval training?

What if I do have rhabdomyolysis?

If you do end up with a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis, your physician will likely stop your statin medication. There are statins that have a lower risk for rhabdomyolisis, such as pravastatin (Pravachol) and fluvastatin (Lescol).

As a final note, if you’re taking a statin, you should also avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice. Grapefruit contains compounds called furanocoumarins that stop your body’s natural enzymes from doing their job. As a result, more of the statin drug is absorbed, making it more powerful than it would normally be.


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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; . https://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; . https://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. https://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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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.


Download the free WellRx app from the iOS app store or the Google Play Store,
and get registered to take advantage of our free medication adherence tools.

If you’re struggling to afford your medications,
visit www.WellRx.com to compare the cash price at pharmacies near you.
You may find prices lower than your insurance co-pay!

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Savings card vs. savings coupon image scriptsave wellrx

What’s in a name and why does it matter?

Although many patients tend to think of the ScriptSave WellRx program as a coupon for their meds, your free prescription savings card is actually a lot more powerful.

In addition to the obvious differences, like the fact that you would normally only get to use a regular coupon for one transaction (related to just one very specific product, as stated on the face of the coupon), there are some additional and very important features that make for big differences between an Rx discount card (like ScriptSave WellRx) and a coupon.

Here are a couple of important things to keep in mind. Understanding these differences will also help to explain why an insurance provider can’t allow you use the ScriptSave discount in addition to their own reduced rates, or why a pharmaceutical manufacturer won’t allow you to apply their copay savings program together with our low prices.

  • A regular coupon works by lowering the end-price of a product, cutting it by the exact amount shown on the coupon. The coupon has a fixed value, and the retailer will subtract that fixed value from the current sales price. For example, the regular coupon might say, “Take $5 off the price of XYZ.” When this happens, the savvy consumer might decide to shop around in order to find the store that sells this product for the very lowest price…THEN s/he will receive an additional $5 off that lowest price upon surrendering the coupon.
  • In contrast, what we do with the ScriptSave WellRx program is to negotiate lower final costs for each specific medication. We don’t negotiate a fixed coupon value. Instead, we negotiate a final discounted price. This is a subtle but important difference. With our program we’re saying, “We can get you a specific medication for a negotiated final price of $X.” This being the case, if the patient can find a pharmacy that will fill their prescription for a final out-of-pocket cost that’s lower than our negotiated price (perhaps as a result of the drug being on a low copay list with their insurer), they may not want to use their Rx discount card for that particular medication. Meanwhile, the same patient may have a second prescription that’s not covered by insurance and where the ScriptSave out-of-pocket cost is the lowest discounted price available…in which case one script gets filled with ScriptSave and the other does not.

Can it be used with insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.?

Here’s another example to help illustrate. We’ll start by laying out three basic pricing options for filling a prescription at a given pharmacy…

  1. An insurance policy (including Medicare and Medicaid) includes a list of drugs (known as the Formulary) for which covered patients will pay a predetermined negotiated rate.
  2. Similar to the prescription drug formulary at an insurance company, the contracts that ScriptSave has negotiated with its pharmacy partners also result in pre-determined out-of-pocket costs. These rates are available to ANY patient who chooses to pay cash.
  3. At the same time, a generic drug list at a retail pharmacy shows the final prices for certain drugs at that pharmacy.

Of the three pricing options listed above, a patient is free to choose the price that makes the most sense for each of the prescriptions they are filling. However, this is a one-or-other choice. There’s simply no way to “stack/combine” the savings from an insurance payer together with the savings from a cash discount card, because the prices being offered under each option are contractually agreed and final.

Another way to put this is to say that, in the world of a regular coupon, the value of the coupon is always the same no matter which store it gets redeemed it at. Therefore, the final out-of-pocket cost for any product that has a coupon will vary based on how much the store is selling the product for in the first place. Meanwhile, an Rx savings card like the ScriptSave WellRx card will deliver a fixed final out-of-pocket cost (and so it’s the value of the discount that changes with every prescription being filled, relative to the original cash price for the drug in question).

In short, prescription savings programs are NOT coupons. While it might be easy to think of them in this way (and you may even hear us refer to them as such), it’s important to keep the differences in mind. Furthermore, you’ll want to choose your savings program based on its reputation and relationship with pharmacies … because it’s these relationships that matter when it comes time for the pharmacist to honor the savings card or mobile app.

As part of the Medical Security Card Company and ScriptSave suite of pharmacy programs, the ScriptSave WellRx program boasts well over 20 years (founded in 1994) of history and relationships with our pharmacy partners. We believe this helps make ScriptSave WellRx second-to-none.


Download the free WellRx app from the iOS app store or the Google Play Store,
and get registered to take advantage of our free medication adherence tools.
If you’re struggling to afford your medications,
visit www.WellRx.com to compare the cash price at pharmacies near you.
You may find prices lower than your insurance co-pay!

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.

For the best Rx price on prescription
depression or anxiety medications,
visit www.WellRx.com.

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62,000 pharmacies nationwide.

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