Have you ever heard the phrase, “You don’t know, what you don’t know?”  That is certainly the case with pharmacogenetics testing.

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Kelly Burleson, Director of Education, PGx Medical

For  many of us, our parents told us we are allergic to a medication.  We may have had a reaction to a particular medication as a child, therefore it goes in our medical records and each time we go to the doctor or the pharmacy we remind them of this.  And each time they ask,  “what happens when you take that medication?”  I would always reply the same, “I have no idea.  My mom told me I had a reaction when I was a child.”

I work in the field of pharmacogenetics but had never been tested.  I’m 54 years old, in good health, eat right, exercise daily and don’t take prescription medications.  Until I injured my back recently.  Overnight I was prescribed meloxicam for inflammation and hydrocodone for the pain.  I’ve never liked taking medication and decided it was time to be tested to see if the medications that were prescribed, even had the ability to give me therapy.

So I went through the simple process of having my PCP order the test and swab my cheek.  Within approximately 72 hours my results were ready and everything my mother had told me from a very young age, were validated in this scientific-based test.

Not only am I allergic to codeine, my test results show due to my genetic makeup, that if taken I may experience life threatening or fatal respiratory distress or signs of overdose.  See my results for codeine below.

**Avoid use if clinically possible. Avoid codeine use due to potential for toxicity. Individuals who are CYP2D6 ultra-rapid metabolizers may experience life threatening or fatal respiratory distress or signs of overdose (Drug Label; CPIC Guidelines)

This led me to think, how many people have these adverse reactions and are diagnosed with an overdose or some other type of respiratory problems?  How would you know if you haven’t been tested?  Again, you don’t know, what you don’t know.

So how do doctors and pharmacists know how your body metabolizes medications?  Is there a standard “one dose fits all” approach to prescribing?  I’ve heard some say they favor one medication over another so that is the drug of choice for their patients.  But we all know everyone is uniquely made and medications react differently according to each individuals genetic profile.

As of now, medicare covers the cost of pharmacogenetics testing and in select states, medicaid covers the cost of the test.  My hope is that one day soon more private insurance providers will see the benefits of personalized medicine.  Not only from a cost savings standpoint – which is huge when you consider the length a patient stays on a medication that doesn’t have the ability to give them therapy, hospitalization from adverse events, falls in the elderly and the list goes on and on.

But to me, the biggest reason is to know from a very young age how “my” body processes medications so I don’t spend a lifetime taking drugs that will do more harm than good.  According to an article in aafp.org, drugs cause approximately 20 percent of community-and hospital-acquired episodes of acute renal failure.  Among older adults, the incidence of drug-induced nephrotoxicity may be as high as 66 percent.  Just think of what a lifetime of drugs — the wrong drugs, is doing to your body.

For now, we will continue our work educating and implementing pharmacogenetics in long term care and hopefully make a difference in the lives of elderly adults across the country.  Help give them a better quality of life and peace of mind knowing they are in control of their own health.  Don’t we owe that to them?

For more information on pharmacogenetics, contact PGx Medical, info@pgxmed.com or 405-509-5112.