An annual medication review—or a "brown bag review"—is a good opportunity to make sure you’re taking the right medicines for your condition, and taking them correctly.

“Whether you’re taking one, two, or a dozen medications, having a comprehensive medication review with your pharmacist or doctor can help with identifying potential problems,” explains Michael Steinman, M.D., a professor of geriatrics at the University of California in San Francisco. "It can also help your doctor remove medications you might no longer need.”

That's why Consumer Reports, working with the Department of Health and Human Services, has proclaimed Oct. 21, 2017, “National Check Your Meds Day.” A number of pharmacies—Albertsons, Costco, CVS, Sam’s Club, Target, Walmart, and many independents—have agreed to support the effort. Some may even have extra staff on hand to help you review your meds. Ask your local pharmacy if it is participating.

If even one of the six questions below describes your drug regimen, make an appointment to see your doctor or pharmacist.

Good to know: Asking whether there are meds you can stop taking could result in at least one less prescription, according to CR’s recent nationally representative survey.

1. How many doctors prescribe your meds? A drug review is a good idea even if you have just one physician. But the more you see, the greater the risk of miscommunication and duplicate drugs. So designate one—usually your primary care doctor—to oversee all of your meds.

2. Do you also regularly take over-the-counter drugs or dietary supplements? They can pose risks even though they don’t require a prescription. So make sure you tell your doctor about them, including pills, liquids, drops, and ointments.

3. Do you take more than one drug to treat the same health problem, such as two drugs to treat depression? That’s sometimes necessary to control your condition, but it can also be a red flag that you’re taking a drug you don’t need.

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4. Do you need a drug to control the side effects of another? For example, do you take a laxative to ease constipation caused by an opioid? That, too, can be okay if it makes it possible for you to take a drug you require. But check to see whether you can ease side effects by lowering the dose, switching to another drug, or trying lifestyle changes instead.

5. Have you been taking your medication for more than three months? Many conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, can require drugs for a lifetime. But for some problems, people stay on drugs longer than necessary.

6. Do you struggle to pay for your meds? Our previous surveys have found that doctors often don’t consider the cost of drugs they prescribe. Don’t hesitate to ask about less expensive but equally effective alternatives, including generic versions.



Editor's Note: This special report and supporting materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by a multistate settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

This article also appears in the September 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.