Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Prescription Drug Side Effects: What You Should Know

Medication side effects fall under the category of “things most people don’t think about until they have to.” But make no mistake, all drugs have side effects, even if they are so mild that you don’t notice them.

When Side Effects Occur
Side effects can happen at any time, according to Kristen Howard, Pharm D. They can occur when you first take a medicine, with changes in dosage, or if you stop taking the medicine suddenly or too soon. If you begin to take other prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs, interactions among the medicines may cause side effects as well.

Types of Side Effects
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices. In short, understanding side effects is their business.

Some of the most common side effects include upset stomach, dry mouth, and drowsiness. These are relatively easy to manage, particularly if the patient is aware that they may happen. Your pharmacist may recommend taking a medication only before bed (for drowsiness) or with meals (to avoid stomach upset). These common side effects are almost always easy to find on the prescription label, or packaging, if the drug is available over-the-counter.

The FDA defines a side effect as “serious” if it is life-threatening; results in hospitalization, disability, or permanent damage; or if exposure prior to conception or during pregnancy could cause a birth defect. The good news is that by the time a medication is dispensed to you, it has been studied at length. Any risk for a serious side effect has been assessed and must be disclosed to you so that you can make an educated decision about the drug you are about to take.

How to Manage Side Effects
If you think you may be experiencing a side effect of your medication, speak up! Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to help you understand your options for managing your symptoms – whether that means adjusting your dose, how you take the medication, or possibly trying another alternative treatment. And remember, you are not being a “difficult customer” by speaking up! Most side effects are very common and it is common for different patients to have different reactions to the same medication. Doctors and pharmacists want to help you find the treatment that works best for you.

Have more questions? Check out the FDA’s online guide to medication side effects or speak with a medical professional.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mental Health: Three Keys to Responsible Prescription Drug Use

Taking medication for a mental health issue is very common. Researchers from the Institute of Safe Medication Practices found that more than 40 million U.S. adults reported filling one or more mental health prescriptions in 2013, the most recent year of collected information. In fact, data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that about 18 percent of U.S. adults experienced some form of mental illness in the past year. Taking a prescription medication to treat a chronic condition, like a mental health condition, requires more consideration than taking a drug for an acute condition, like an antibiotic for a sinus infection (though all drugs need to be used and stored with care). Here are three keys to taking your medication responsibly:

1. Understand your timeline and treatment plan
When your doctor prescribes a new medication for you, it is important to understand the full treatment timeline. Your treatment timeline includes:
·       When you should start taking the medication, (e.g. morning or evening, when your current prescription is complete, at the start of a new week, with or without meals, etc.)
·       When you can expect to see an impact, (e.g. will the drug will be effective immediately or will it take several weeks before you see a change in your symptoms)
·       When or if side effects may appear and what side effects you may expect
·       When or if you should call your doctor regarding specific side effects
·       When or how to stop the medication

Understanding when to stop a medication is particularly important for the treatment of mental health conditions. For example, while most treatments for depression are not addictive, patients may feel withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop treatment. In some situations, it is critically important to work with your doctor to ease off of a medication over time.

Your treatment also includes other therapies that are necessary to treat your illness, such as counseling, individual or group therapy, or laboratory monitoring. Drugs are only a part of a comprehensive treatment plan for mental illness.

2. Communicate clearly
Although today’s medical record technologies are becoming increasingly comprehensive, you should never assume that the doctor, nurse, or pharmacist you are speaking with has a full understanding of your health. Clear, open communication is critical to avoid dangerous drug interactions or possible side effects that may be unique to your situation.

It is important to always provide your doctor and your pharmacist with a complete list of all the medications you are taking, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs (including pain pills and nutraceuticals), as well as alcohol and recreational drugs. All can potentially create serious drug interactions with mental health therapies. In that conversation, make sure to include how much you take and how often.

Always speak up if you have any questions about when or how to take a particular medication and be sure to bring up any surprising side effects. It can be helpful to keep a small notebook or file of all of your prescriptions and notes from past appointments, so that the information is safely compiled in one location. Some patients like to store this information on their smart phone so that they always have it with them. The FamilyWize website has a Medicine Cabinet feature that may be of help.

3. Store safely
Everyone who takes a prescription medication for any reason should practice safe storage and disposal habits to lower the risk of dosing errors, accidental poisoning, and abuse.  Luckily, if you are already following the first two keys to responsible drug use, storing your drugs safely can be pretty straightforward. 

First, follow all instructions from your pharmacist for your specific medication. Some medications need to be kept in the refrigerator, or need to be taken at a specific time of day, etc. Those instructions are to keep you safe and to ensure that the treatment is as effective as possible. In general, store medications in a cool, dry place. Bathroom medicine cabinets are not always the ideal storage spot. Humidity from showers can sometimes adversely affect the stability of a medication.

Second, keep all drugs up and away from little hands, with the child safety cap tightly closed at all times. Only take your medication in a well-lit room (e.g. not in a dark bathroom in the middle of the night), and keep all drugs in their original containers. In the rare situation that a child does accidently take your medication, please call 911 immediately.

Third, track your doses. This helps to protect you from accidentally taking an extra dose and it protects your family, in the event that a family member tries to sneak a dose or self-medicate from your medicine cabinet.

For more information about safely storing your medications, check out the our blog post about keeping your family safe from accidental poisoning.

We are lucky to live in a world where there are prescription medications that can help us to manage mental health conditions. Working with your doctor and pharmacist to take your prescriptions responsibly is an essential step towards becoming your best self. 


This post originally ran on the Mental Health America (MHA) blog on May 8,2017.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Three Proven Ways to Save Money on Your Electric Bill

Summer utility bills can sting. Between using extra water to keep your yard green and running the air conditioner to stay cool, it can feel like you have to choose between saving money and enjoying your summer. That doesn’t have to be true – particularly when it comes to your electric bill!

Here are three proven ways to save money on your electric bill this month:

1. Avoid “vampires”
As explained by the U.S. Department of Energy, most homes have multiple TVs and computers, which are all connected to various devices, such as DVD players, game consoles, external monitors, and printers. Believe it or not, the energy consumed by all these gadgets in our homes can add up to nearly 10 percent of a household's monthly electric bill! Many people forget to turn off their devices when they aren't using them, and many electronics continue to draw power even after they've been turned off, wasting energy in the form of "vampire loads."

To avoid wasting energy on devices that you aren’t actively using, try investing in a few advanced power strips. There are many different products on the market – some even have timers or activity sensors. Check out this infographic to learn more.

2. Replace old thermostats
If you aren’t using a programmable thermostat, switching to one may make a demonstrable difference in your electric bill. We all know that adjusting your thermostat just a few degrees can improve your energy use. Programmable thermostats allow you to make those slight adjustments automatically, based on your household needs, to ensure you save money.

The experts at recommend taking things a step further with a smart thermostat, so that you can control your heating and cooling from your phone or other device. Click here to read their smart thermostat reviews for 2017.

3. Trash old light bulbs
Overwhelmed when you visit the light bulb aisle at your local home improvement store? We are too! But the good news is that all of those new light bulb options exist to help save you money. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an average household dedicates about five percent of its energy budget to lighting. Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills. By replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR, you can save $75 each year.

After you are done lowering your energy bill, don’t forget that you can lower your pharmacy bill as well. Regardless of your insurance situation, the Free FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card can help you to spend less money on your family’s prescription drugs. Download the free app today.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ask an Expert: Which Drugs May Be Dangerous for Heart Health?

This post is part of our “Ask an Expert” blog series. In this post, Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D and Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize, identifies several medications that should be used with care by patients with heart failure. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital and home care. Read his full bio, here.

In the U.S., more than 1 in 3 adults have cardiovascular diseases. On average, heart failure patients take 6.8 prescription medications per day, resulting in 10.1 doses a day. This estimate does not include over-the-counter medications or alternative treatments.

It is important to note, however, that not all medications are safe for those with cardiovascular diseases. Some commonly used drugs have specifically been identified as potentially dangerous for those with an existing heart condition.

Anesthesia Medications
We know that most anesthetics interfere with cardiovascular performance. While generally very safe for the average person, anesthesia for surgical procedures can be dangerous for patients with heart failure. A recent study observed a 63 percent increased risk of operative mortality and a 51 percent greater risk of being readmitted to the hospital among patients with heart failure compared with patients without heart failure or coronary artery disease. It is critical for all patients to have a comprehensive discussion about their health with their anesthesiologist before going under anesthesia, no matter how routine the procedure.

Pain Medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve, Naproxen), and cyclogenase-2 inhibitors (celecoxib, Celebrex) are used very widely in the United States and generally considered to be very safe. Unfortunately, they are less safe for people who already have cardiovascular disease.

NSAIDs can cause the body to retain sodium. Excess sodium causes the body to retain more fluid and forces your heart to work harder. This can be a major problem for people with heart failure, making it critical for heart patients to speak with a doctor before taking NSAIDs for any length of time. Additionally, chronic or heavy use of NSAIDs can also cause chronic kidney disease, another reason to monitor their use.

Diabetes Medications
There are a handful of medications for the treatment of diabetes that should either be avoided or carefully monitored by anyone with concern for their heart health. Specifically, Avandia (rosiglitazone) and Actos (pioglitazone) have both been identified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as potentially increasing the risk of heart failure, and their use is limited to people whose diabetes is not well controlled by other medications. Both drugs can cause fluid retention, similar to NSAIDs, which causes stress on the heart.

If you have a cardiovascular disease, please be sure to discuss each and every medication you use with your doctor, including over-the-counter medications or alternative medications. These conversations are important and can help to keep you safe.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How To Know If A Prescription Discount Card is Right for You

Have you read about prescription discount programs and wondered if they applied to you? Do you have insurance but are frustrated with the amount of money that you are spending at the pharmacy?

Our infographic can help you! Check it out below to understand if the Free FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card can help you to save money on your prescription medication.

Do you have friends or family who could also benefit from the Free FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card? Send them to to sign up now!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Three Ways to Soothe Away Stress

“I love being stressed out!” said no one, ever.
Whether you’re worried about a big meeting or being able to get prescription savings on your medications, stress is ever present in our lives; but it doesn’t have to run our lives. Here are three actionable ways to soothe away your stress so you can relax.

In a stressful moment, try using the STOP method recommended by Diana Winston, director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and co-author of Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness. STOP stands for Slow into the moment, Take a breath, and Observe what’s happening before you proceed. Our bodies need to react to stress for survival. If a hungry tiger decides to chase you, you want your body to move quickly, not sit down and meditate. The problem arises when your body can’t tell the difference between a hungry tiger and a challenging meeting at work. The STOP method provides you with a way to slow down, mindfully identify what is happening, and then to proceed with a little more clarity and calmness.

Reframe the Situation
The experts at Psychology Today recommend using reframing as a technique to remove negativity from challenging situations. It is natural to focus on the most challenging or frustrating aspect of a situation, even though that is not the whole picture. Yes, it is a bummer that John quit and now your team will be one person short. But how else can you think about the situation? Once John leaves, maybe that gives you the opportunity to promote someone else who really deserves it. Or maybe you’ll have the opportunity to hire someone who speaks Spanish or who has some other useful skill to improve your team overall. By focusing on the positive opportunities and not just the negative challenges, you can reframe your thoughts about the situation and feel less stress.

Practice Gratitude
Like reframing, regularly practicing gratitude teaches your brain to focus on positive, calmer thoughts, rather than playing negative thoughts on repeat. In her article, “Overcome Stress by Saying Thanks,” Susanna M. Halonen recommends asking yourself a series of questions to gain perspective and cultivate gratitude in a stressful situation:
      What lessons is this experience teaching me?
      Can I find ways to be thankful for what’s happening to me now even though I was not thankful at the time it started happening?
      What ability is the experience drawing out of me that is surprising me?
View her full article here to see the rest of the list.

So the next time stress threatens your sunny day, STOP, reframe it, and be thankful.

How do you keep your stress in check? Share your tips on our Facebook page and help others soothe their stress. For more advice for living a healthier lifestyle, follow the FamilyWize blog; and visit our website to download the best discount Rx card for free.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Surprising Thing You Should Always Comparison Shop For

We all know that we should comparison shop for things like flights, cars, and even baby diapers. But there is one thing that we should ALWAYS comparison shop for…even though most people never do.

Prescription medications.

Prescription Drugs Are Expensive
Drug prices rose an average of nearly ten percent over the 12-month period ending in May 2016 – a time when the overall inflation rate was just one percent in the U.S.

A report from data firm IMS Health estimates patients, insurers, government programs, and other payers spent a combined $309.5 billion in 2015 on prescriptions. The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics predicts spending will reach $370 billion to $400 billion in 2020.

There is a misconception among many consumers that drug prices “are what they are” and there is little consumers can do to combat them. That isn’t necessarily true. From comparing prices at different pharmacies to using a free prescription savings card program, there are definitely effective ways to lower your family’s prescription drug costs.

How to Comparison Shop for Prescription Drugs
It used to be that comparison shopping for prescription medications required a lot of leg work – identifying local pharmacies and then making multiple phone calls to inquire about the prices of the drugs you need. The FamilyWize website takes away all of that hassle.

Earlier this year, FamilyWize launched its Medicine Cabinet, which allows you to store all of your family’s prescription information in one secure location, so that you can use that data to comparison shop for the lowest available prices. You can use this feature in conjunction with our medication discount card. Here’s how the FamilyWize Medicine Cabinet works:

      Create a personal profile to save and track your family’s prescription drug price searches.
      Search and compare prescription drug prices within a designated zip code.
      Bundle prescriptions by pharmacy to see total cumulative costs prior to visiting the pharmacy.
      Compare pricing between generic and name brand prescriptions.
      Toggle search results between pharmacy locations and drug cost breakdowns to make informed decisions for your family.
      Instantly download the FamilyWize card or app.

Want to give it a try? Visit and start a new search or create your own account. Have questions about how to use the Medicine Cabinet or thoughts on how we can improve it? Please email us at We love to hear from you!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ask an Expert: Patient Rights at the Pharmacy Counter

This post is part of our “Ask an Expert” blog series. In this post, Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D and Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize, addresses the rights all patients have when they visit the pharmacy. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care. Read his full bio, here.

There are many articles and pamphlets available that describe what your rights are as a patient at a doctor’s office. But are you aware of your rights at your local pharmacy?

Specifically, there are five patient rights that I encourage everyone to be aware of before they fill a prescription for any member of their family.

Patient Rights at the Pharmacy

1. Right to choose your pharmacy
First and foremost, you have the right to choose which pharmacy you go to for your prescription needs. Too many patients default to the pharmacy closest to their home or doctor’s office, without researching the prices of their medications or considering other variables like added services (e.g. delivery options or in-store clinics). You have the right to choose the pharmacy that will best serve your family’s needs.

2. Right to access a pharmacist for questions and counseling
You have the right to ask to speak with the pharmacist. Sometimes the person who hands you your prescription is a pharmacy technician, not a licensed pharmacist. He or she should offer you access to the on-duty pharmacist if you have any questions about your prescription, but even if they do not, you always have the right to ask. You are not “bothering” the pharmacist and the pharmacy technician will not be insulted.

3. Right to privacy of both conversation and records
Thanks to HIPAA, patient privacy has become the norm. Patients should always expect their personal information and medical records to be kept strictly confidential. But if a pharmacist or pharmacy technician initiates a conversation with you about your medication, you always have the right to request a more private location. Today, most pharmacies have separate counters, privacy rooms, or partitioned areas available for that purpose.

4. Right to choose your method of payment
Did you know that you don’t have to use your health insurance to purchase a prescription, even if you have coverage? At the pharmacy counter, you always have the right to choose if you would like to apply your insurance benefits or pay cash. Depending on your coverage, the pharmacist may be able to help you understand what your most cost-effective option might be. For example, some patients find that they save more money by paying cash and utilizing the free Rx prescription discount card from FamilyWize than by using other coverage or discount options, especially for patients with a High Deductible Health Plan.

5. Right to file a grievance
If you are unhappy with the service you have received for any reason, you have the right to file a grievance or complaint. To find your pharmacy’s protocols, please ask at your pharmacy or search your pharmacy’s website for additional details.

Knowing your patient rights and utilizing them will enable you to become a better-informed participant in your own healthcare and wellbeing. And the next time you refill your prescription at the pharmacy, remember to use your free pharmacy discount card from FamilyWize.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Opioid Epidemic: Three Things Families Should Know

The New York Times recently reported that drug overdose deaths in 2016 most likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States. The article attributes this terrifying statistic to an escalating public health crisis: opioid addiction, now made more deadly by an influx of fentanyl and similar drugs. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.

How can you keep your loved ones safe? Here are three facts about the opioid crisis that families need to know:

1. In many cases, illegal heroin and fentanyl use begins with the abuse of legally prescribed painkillers.  As described in The Economist, opioids can be divided into three broad groups. First, are legitimate painkillers, such as OxyContin, which is FDA-approved and even eligible for prescription savings. Heavily prescribed since the 1990s, some of these pills were abused by people who defeated their slow-release mechanisms by crushing and then snorting or injecting them. The second group consists of powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil. These have legitimate medical uses, but are often manufactured illegally and smuggled into America. The third opioid is heroin, derived from opium poppies, almost all of it illegally.

Too often, abuse begins innocently enough – a middle-aged woman with chronic back pain begins regularly using legally prescribed opioid pain medication. She may find that over time, she needs more and more to feel better. Then when her prescription runs out, she discovers that she can’t get through the day without it and turns to illegal options, like fentanyl or heroin.

Sadly, it is just as likely that her teenage son may get his hands on her prescribed medication, taking “just a few pills for a party.” His addiction will then often follow the same path, until his life is consumed by his need for the drugs.

2. The opioid epidemic is not an urban problem or a “bad people” problem. The Economist also reports that deaths are highest in the Midwest and Northeast, among middle-aged men, and among Caucasians. Some of the worst-affected counties are rural. As Bruce Y. Lee, a contributor put it, “Science will help everyone understand that opioid addiction is not ‘bad people doing bad things.’... It's not as if more and more people around the country since the '90s have decided to turn bad. The opioid epidemic is a systems problem.” Because the danger is the drug itself and how it affects the brain, it is critical for all families to work to prevent drug addiction.

3. If you face chronic pain, there are alternatives to opioids. Before you accept a prescription for any pain medication, ask about what kind it is and what your options are. Short-term use of opioids can be safe, but if you have school-age children in the house or expect to be taking your medication for an extended period of time, it is worth asking about addiction risk and other alternatives.

Unfortunately, sometimes opioid alternatives are not covered by some health insurances. That is where FamilyWize can help. Our Free Rx Prescription Discount Card enables everyone, both insured and uninsured, to save on their prescription medications, with average savings of around 40 percent. Learn more at

To learn more about the opioid epidemic, please visit the CDC website – Understanding the Epidemic.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Walking is Free, Easy and Effective

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Although you’re taking your medications daily (and using the best Rx discount card for additional savings), exercise is important, too. While there will always be a trendy new workout to try, good-old walking will always be a safe, effective standby exercise for virtually every body type in every stage of life.

Need to be reminded why walking is so great for you?
Here are seven benefits of walking for exercise:

1.     Walking can be a form of meditation – Studies have found that a 20-minute walk can calm your overactive brain and restore your attention.
2.     Walking can protect your memory – Researchers following up on 300 older adults after 13 years found that those who had walked six to nine miles a week lowered their risk of memory problems by 50 percent.
3.     Walking is also good for brain function in general – Researchers found that adults who walked for 40 minutes three times a week slowed age-related declines in brain function and improved their performance on cognitive tasks.
4.     Walking reduces your odds of developing chronic health conditions – Studies show that regular walks of approximately 30 minutes decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis, breast and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and more.
5.     Walking keeps your weight in check – Regular walks are a simple way to maintain a healthy weight and avoid the health risks associated with obesity.
6.     Walking keeps your doctor happy – Regular walking improves your most basic health statistics, including your blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood lipid profile.
7.     Walking is good for your blood sugar levels – The Whitaker Wellness Institute encourages its patients to take a 10-minute walk after meals to help clear glucose out of the bloodstream.

And best of all, walking is FREE! No gym memberships or fancy equipment required. Taking a short walk every day (provided your doctor hasn’t advised against it) is a great way to begin an exercise habit. Interested in giving it a try? Start here for some easy guidelines from the Mayo Clinic.

Have a great resource for fitness walking? Share it on our Facebook page! And for the best prescription savings card, turn to FamilyWize.

      AARP – Walk This Way