bipolar parent

How to Ensure You Never Run out of Meds Again

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Blogger’s Note: I will be updating my blog every two weeks from now on! Thanks for reading!

This post appeared on the International Bipolar Foundation’s website, here.

Running out of meds is the worst. 

If you’re regularly taking medication and you run out of pills and stop suddenly, this is terrible for your body and your mind. 

If you’re bipolar, you may end up tripping into a mood episode that can devastate you and your family.

But how do you ensure you never run out of meds?

This is the process that works for me, and it might help you, too. I live in the US, take medications that work that I can afford, and have a regular psychiatrist on call that I can also afford. 

If these facts aren’t all true for you, then the basics of the process may work but the entire process may not. 

I’ll discuss some tips on how to afford your meds later, as well as providing a National Institutes of Mental Health link describing several ways to afford a psychiatrist in the US.

How to Prevent Yourself from Running out of Meds

As I’m sure you’re aware, keeping your supply of meds stocked is important for day-to-day functioning.

But how do you ensure you’ll never run out of meds again?

Here’s what I do.

I have an am/pm pillbox that I fill every week on Sunday morning, right after my morning dose. I recommend designating a particular time to fill your pillbox, so you are always aware of what medications you possess at any given time.

I also highly recommend taking your meds at the same times every day. I take mine as soon as I wake up and after dinner at around 6pm but no later than 6:30pm because my antipsychotic helps me sleep, and if I take it too late, I’m wired until midnight.

Now that I’ve been taking my meds at the same times every day for almost a year, the habit is ingrained in me, and I rarely miss my meds. And on the rare occasion that I do miss a morning dose, for example, my pillbox lets me know because the pills are still in the am slot.

Once I have two weeks left of pills, I call my pharmacy and have them order pills for me from my psychiatrist.

My psych doc knows these pills work for me in these doses (and if they ever stop working, I call him to make an adjustment), so he prescribes them in doses of 90 days.

If you can talk to your psychiatrist and ask them to prescribe in three-month levels (assuming you have meds that work), you can have your psychiatrist fax your meds to the pharmacy of your choice and pick them up every three months.

I have my preferred pharmacy’s–at my local grocery store–number saved in my phone. When I call them to order medications, the pharmacy has an automated phone menu that I enter my prescription bottle number (so save that bottle!) in to ask for a refill.

After entering the prescription number in the phone and confirming my own phone number when asked, the menu narrator then tells me when my medications will be ready (usually in a couple of days).

So when I see I have a two-week supply left of my medications from filling my pillbox on Sunday morning, I call my pharmacy. They order a 90-day supply from my psychiatrist, and I have my husband pick the medication up on the next shopping day, typically Mondays.

So my process is almost entirely automated. I would be surprised if your local grocery store didn’t also have an automated phone menu for their pharmacy, so you wouldn’t even have to talk to a pharmacist if you didn’t want to!

But don’t be afraid to talk to your pharmacist. They’re there to help you. They want you to have your meds, not only because that’s good for you, but also that’s how they get paid.

Get to know your local pharmacist if you can. They can help you get the life-saving medications you need on a regular basis.

Back before I got used to this process and I frequently ran out of pills, I was able to call my pharmacist and ask them to expedite my meds so I could pick them up in the same day.

Before I had a three-month supply, I also called my pharmacist to order me a three-week supply when I was going on an out-of-state trip.

I’ve also run out of meds while on a month-long trip and called my psych doc and pharmacy to transfer the “emergency” prescription to a pharmacy across the country, where I was staying.

So learning to rely on your pharmacist, who again, is there to help you, is crucial for your success!

But What if You Can’t Afford Them?

If you can’t afford your medications, ask your doctor. They may have access to free samples of the pills you need or be able to prescribe you a cheaper generic drug.

If you’re an American citizen and you’re uninsured, find out if the pharmaceutical company that manufactures your drug has a patient-assistance program. You may qualify for these programs if your income is 100% of the poverty line, but it’s unlikely that you will if you receive Medicaid benefits.

Ask your pharmacy if they have a discount program if you pay in cash. If you’re over fifty and have a membership with the AARP, you can receive discounts on pills.

As promised, here’s the link to the NAMI’s article of resources if you can’t afford a psychiatrist. This is US-centric, but you can extrapolate the process if you live in another country.

Final Thoughts

This process has taken me a long time and a lot of trial and error to perfect, but the three-month supply works very well for me. After years of never running out of meds, I have found that the process is almost automatic.

If you can automate and make routines for yourself, you will find the management of your condition a lot easier.

I wish you well in your journey.

Editor’s Note – Some states have laws that prevents you from getting prescriptions for psych meds directly from the pharmacy, so you may have to go through your doctor. IBPF is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, so if you have any questions, please speak to your medical professionals.

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bipolar parent

Scientists Predict Who Will Respond to Lithium

Lithium is a salt which treats both mania and depression in a lucky thirty percent of people with bipolar disorder. But prior to the discovery of a new method to predict who will respond to lithium, people were playing roulette.

Now scientists at the Salk Institute can predict, with 92 percent accuracy, who will be a lithium responder. All they need is five cells and a test. They discovered that the neurons of people with bipolar disorder are more excitable when exposed to stimuli and fire more rapid electrical impulses than individuals without the disorder. This means that people with bipolar are more easily stimulated.

In an old study, the scientists found that soaking skin cells from bipolar patients in a lithium solution calmed the hyperexcitability–but only for some of them. The next study proved even more fruitful. The researchers soaked lymphocytes (immune cells) rom known lithium responders in lithium solutions, and found the same results–the hyperexcitabilty was calmed. But even though both responders and non-responders had the same excitability, the electrophysiological properties were different.

pills
Credit to flickr.com user The Javorac. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

The Salk team looked for electrical firing patterns in neuronal lines, measuring the threshold for evoking a reaction, and other qualities. Overall, the patterns in responders were completely different than in non-responders.

The scientists were able to replicate the results again and again, which means that this test is proven to work. Now a blood draw is all that’s needed to test whether a patient with bipolar disorder will respond to lithium.

bipolar parent

What to do if You Run Out of Medication

Medications. Like it or not, sufferers of mental health problems usually need to take them to manage their conditions. Being compliant with your prescribed pills is the best path to stable moods. But what happens when you run out?  Here are a few tips to deal with just that.

1. Don’t Panic

If you have a mental health issue that’s triggered by stress, panicking is the worst thing you can do for yourself. Withdrawal symptoms can be harsh, but not as bad as triggering your illness. Breathe. Remind yourself that this is a temporary problem, which can be fixed. Which brings us to our next point…

pills.jpg
Credit to flickr.com user mattza. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

2. Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor immediately, and keep them apprised of the situation. If you can’t meet with them, find out if they will call in a prescription for you to a pharmacy. Any doctor at your regular office should have access to your files, and should be able to fill a prescription.

3. Use a Regular Pharmacy

If you can, visit the same pharmacy and get to know your pharmacist. Bring your empty prescription bottles with you to talk to the technicians, and they might be able to give you an emergency five- or seven-day supply, or direct you to an emergency clinic that can. You are unlikely to get one if you are sixteen or younger, as pharmacists are reluctant to give out medication to minors. Take an adult that you trust with you to help smooth things over.

4. What if I Can’t Afford Them?

If you can’t afford your medications, ask your doctor. He or she may have access to free samples of the pills you need, or be able to prescribe you a cheaper generic drug. If you’re an American citizen and you’re uninsured, find out if the pharmaceutical company that manufactures your drug has a patient-assistance program. You may qualify for these programs if your income is 100% of the poverty line, but it’s unlikely that you will if you receive Medicaid benefits. Ask your pharmacy if they have a discount program if you pay in cash. If you’re over fifty and have a membership with the AARP, you can receive discounts on pills.

There is no reason for you to go into medication withdrawal. Ideally, you’d be able to have your doctor prescribe some drugs months in advance, but if that’s not the case, contact your doctors and pharmacy to find out what they can do for you. They want to work with you.

Have you ever run out of meds?