One Pill, Two Pill, Red Pill, Blue Pill…

It never ceases to amaze me how educated, relatively conscientious adults do not know the names of their medications. Some of these medications have been taken for years. These tablets and capsules have been carried across state lines and often, even into other countries. And yet, through it all, they are still referred to as “my little yellow heart pill”, “my purple hormone pill”. or “my white fluid pill”. It is never too early or too late to learn the names of your medications!

Of course, I realize that the Managed Care penchant for generic medicines makes the learning process a little more difficult. For some reason, generic names are usually long and cumbersome; triamterene/hydrochlorthiazide is the generic name for a commonly used diuretic. Nevertheless, for your safety, you should learn such names. . .and if you are educationally challenged, you should keep a list in your wallet, your purse, or your Palm Pilot. We are a mobile society, and you may often find yourself in situations where you are the only person who would know your medication regimen. You are the guardian of your pills and the master of your own health maintenance.

We are blessed with extensive research by many high quality pharmaceutical companies, and this trend will surely continue. In such an environment, new drugs are released every month, and their spectrum is incredible. However, not all drugs are compatible. Dangerously high levels of some drugs can result from taking them simultaneously with other common drugs. For example, some antibiotics coupled with anti-fungal drugs can do this. It has been interesting to me that many of the drugs which have been taken off the market in recent years were removed by the FDA not because they were inherently dangerous drugs, but rather because they had potentiously dangerous interactions when mixed with other commonly used medications. It is not safe to assume that patients will alert all prescribers to their full medication regimen. . .but it should be!

Be aware, as well, that some over-the-counter medications and supplements can affect the drug levels of some of your prescriptions as well. If your pharmacist and your physician know your complete medication regimen, they can safely advise you on pill popping. Once again, your knowledge of the pill names is crucial. . .from Acetaminophen all the way to Zinc.

So, after you read this week’s Insight, go immediately to your medicine cabinet, your bedside table or your kitchen shelf and catalog all your capsules, potions and pills. Present this full list to your physician, your pharmacist, and any other health care providers you visit. I suspect that both your doctor and your pharmacist may be surprised by some of the items. About once a week, I learn from a patient that they have continued a medication which I thought we had discontinued at their last visit. Reiterating your medication regimen (including supplements) at each encounter is an excellent practice. But, the first step is learning the names of your drugs. . .how to say them. . .how to spell them as well.

One Pill, Two Pill
Red Pill, Blue Pill
And even the “I Don’t Know What You Do” Pill

You Take them Each Day
To Keep the Doctor Away
But Take Them Wrong,and They’ll Make You Ill

Stephen L. Hines, M.D.
May 2000