Repackaging Leads to More Repackaging—and Frustration

It is difficult to watch one’s own parents grow older, and it is even harder to see them falter. Witnessing my mother divide her medications into a weekly pill organizer and then get a little disorganized recently left me worried and wishing for a better solution.

All but one of her solid-oral drug prescriptions are delivered in pharmacy-packaged vials. She takes 14 such drugs per day, so you can imagine the mass of vials she has to manage. Once a month she is particularly challenged when a new delivery arrives. Rather than double the amount of vials in the cupboard, she’ll condense what she can either into her weekly organizer or into the new vials. That way, she’ll have the most recent prescription dates.

While her system has worked for years, this past weekend it led to a little bit of household drama. She had two strengths of prednisone—5 mg and 10 mg—and was doing her best to keep the strengths separate during her repackaging project.

But I guess she got so distracted by our busy household or a little too worried about combining the 5- and 10-mg tablets that she inadvertently placed the 10-mg prednisone into a new vial of loratadine.

Later, when I asked her a casual question about her prednisone dosing level, she looked around for the 10-mg tablet vial and couldn’t locate it. We searched the trash for the vials discarded hours earlier and didn’t find a filled vial—just an empty one that she mistook for the old vial. After a wider search throughout the medicine cupboard, I started opening other vials and found the comingled prednisone and loratadine in one vial.

She didn’t over or underdose on either prescription, and nothing was discarded, so no harm, no foul, right? But the experience left me wondering whether I should start keeping track of her prescriptions just to lend a second set of eyes.

Trouble is, I am human, too. I remember the stress of organizing my father’s medications. And I remember always feeling a little befuddled during the whole repackaging process when I would end up with uneven amounts of tablets from separate 30-day prescriptions all opened on the same day. Did I forget a tablet somewhere? Drop one? Or did the pharmacist throw in an extra few for good measure?

Managing multiple medications, chronic illness, and aging is such a tough experience. There is so much opportunity for error. And it hasn’t improved too much since I first started thinking and writing about pharmaceutical packaging in 1997. At least not for my family. We need your help with a better solution!

Daphne Allen, Editor

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