Did you know that the average American adult takes four prescription medications? In Episode Thirteen of the Healthy Matters Podcast, you’ll meet a Doctor of Medication – Laurie Willhite, PharmD, a pharmacist who wears many hats around Hennepin Healthcare (and rocks the pillbox). Laurie is part of a trusted, comprehensive team of PharmD’s providing critical oversight of all the medications at Hennepin Healthcare. No small feat for a Level I Trauma Center and teaching hospital!

“We’re the backbone of medication use in the hospital, from the pharmacists and technicians in our central pharmacy to our PharmDs up on the patient care units,” explains Laurie. “The PharmDs on the units are consulting, answering questions, making suggestions for appropriate antibiotic therapy or talking about a drug interaction. We have some new PharmDs up on the units that are trying to plan very carefully for patients who are going home from the hospital, what we call transitions of care. They are making sure that when the medication leaves the hospital, that the patient can afford it, knows how to take it, and that the patient is set up with the pharmacy and has the follow-up appointments in place.”

Laurie is also an expert in opioid abuse prevention. For several years she’s been involved with the work at the Hennepin Healthcare Pain Clinic to promote the safe and effective use of opioid pain medication. She’s on the board of the Steve Rummler Hope Network (www.steverummlerhopenetwork.org) and often works closely with addiction medicine expert Dr. Charlie Reznikoff, who was my guest in Episode Four of the Healthy Matters Podcast.

She shared her thoughts on what led to the increase in opioid addiction.

“I think a lot of us were really naïve about the risk of opioids in the nineties,” she said. “And we were, very susceptible to some misinformation from some of the pharmaceutical companies about the addictive potential of opioids and when they should be used. But a big part of that blame should be on healthcare professionals. We need to be more critical thinkers. Drug companies sell drugs. That’s what they do. We’re the ones that should be looking out for patients. So definitely opioids were overprescribed. They were prescribed for chronic pain conditions where opioids aren’t effective and a lot of people became dependent on them, and some of those people developed an addiction, unfortunately.”

Medication safety and compliance was also an important part of our conversation. Laurie emphasizes the importance of keeping medications out of reach of children.

“It’s super important to store your medications properly so that when your grandkids come over, they don’t start rooting around in your purse for some gum and instead find your blood pressure medicine, which can be very scary – even if a child takes a single pill.”

It can be difficult to keep track of the medications you’re supposed to take and when you’re supposed to take them. Laurie endorses the use of a pill box to sort them by day (and time of day if needed) because it helps you remember when to take your medications and is a great adherence tool. Again, make sure these pill boxes are stored safely.

Can you guess what the number one prescribed drug in that pill box might be? We talk about the top ten prescribed medications in Episode Thirteen of the Healthy Matters Podcast, where you’ll also learn how many pounds of medications were discarded at Hennepin Healthcare drug disposal kiosks last year (clue: it’s the weight of the Minnesota Vikings starting lineup).

Thanks for listening to Healthy Matters – please shoot me an email to suggest topics or ask a question you’d like answered on Hilden’s House Calls to healthymatters@hcmed.org.