Nurses: Educate Your Patients About Medications!

Heath Ledger’s death from an acidental overdose of medications points out the need for patient education! Americans are often way too medicated. If one doctor won’t provide a prescription they seek out another. But the problem isn’t just with those seeking pain killers, sleeping pills and/or anti-anxiety medications and mixing them.

As a home health nurse I have seen people with several versions of the same or similar medications such as anti-hypertensives or other cardiac drugs because they see so many different doctors and no one is overseeing the care.

I’ve had many patients on Lisinopril for instance who were also prescribed Prinivil or Zestril by another physician. (These are all the same drug. Lisinopril is the generic name and Prinivil and Zestril are brand names.) Patients didn’t know, and as the QI nurse reviewing charts, I caught the problem that the field nurse or therapist even overlooked!!

Different prescriptions from different doctors taken to a different pharmacy is a recipe for disaster! Just the same as those seeking drugs for pain or sleep.

OTC meds for coughs, colds and sleep contain similar chemicals. Yet patients don’t read labels and don’t know this. So for instance they will repeatedly take one form of “PM” med and if it doesn’t work, they try another name brand not knowing that they are double dosing with diphenhydramine also known as Benedryl®.

The FDA finally caught on to parents overdosing infants and toddlers on cough and cold medicines because babies were dying from overdoses. But how many are still overdosing young children by giving them one name brand and when it doesn’t stop the cough, they give them another brand of the same basic medication?

Let us take this opportunity to make the problem well known. A talented young man died way too young. As his father requests, let’s use his example to educate the public that medications can be deadly even if they are prescribed by a physician or other health care practitioner.

Nurses need to educate patients to Read labels and ask questions and to use one pharmacy and make one physician responsible to oversee all of their medications!


  • Richard

    I think this is a terrific concept to remind ourselves about. Thanks for the reminder. I’m amazed every day at how many meds our patients take, and they don’t know why or how.