If you’re taking opioid painkillers, have Naloxone on hand

Health agencies are calling for doctors who prescribe opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet to make sure many patients also receive a separate drug that could save their life if they accidentally overdose.

The recommendation, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, comes in response to an alarming rise in fatal opioid overdoses, says Consumer Reports. They reached a record 33,000 in 2015, according to the most recent data from the CDC. One-third of those deaths involved prescription opioids.

Yet many overdose deaths could be prevented with a single drug: naloxone.

The rescue medication comes in the form of an auto-injector or nasal spray, either of which is easy for anyone to use in an emergency. It doesn't even require a prescription in many states.

But most doctors aren't prescribing naloxone often enough -- and many patients don't even know it exists. That has public health and medical organizations concerned.

People who take opioids regularly for pain should talk to their doctor about naloxone, advises Roger Chou, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and co-author of recent CDC guidelines for using opioids to treat chronic pain.

"Getting naloxone makes sense for anyone prescribed opioids, especially for people who have any factors that could put them at risk for overdose," he says. "That includes things like taking high doses or taking certain other medications such as a muscle relaxant, sedative or sleep drug that can intensify the dangerous side effects of the opioid."

But Chou also cautions that naloxone should be only one part of your safety strategy. "Ideally, you should use that conversation with your doctor to talk about ways to reduce your risk, such as slowly tapering down to a safer dose of your pain medication."

Consumer Reports advises that anyone who uses opioids recreationally or has a history of opioid addiction should also have naloxone on hand.

How to Get Naloxone, Even Without a Prescription

Healthcare providers can prescribe naloxone, but in most cases, you can get it even without a prescription. Most states have passed laws allowing pharmacists to dispense the drug.

Your pharmacist can submit the cost to your insurance, regardless of whether you have a prescription.

But because recommendations calling for wider use of naloxone are still relatively new, not all pharmacies are stocking the drug at this point, according to John Beckner, B.S.Pharm., senior director of Strategic Initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).

If you want to have naloxone on hand for a friend or family member, you can still get the drug from the pharmacy, but your personal insurance probably won't cover it, says the NCPA's Beckner.

Although you can get generic naloxone in vials to be used with injections or in nasal spray kits, the newer brand-name products, Narcan Nasal Spray and Evzio Auto-Injectors, are much easier for people without medical training to use.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

Solving family money fights

You may be a whiz at Quicken and a disciplined index investor, but that doesn't mean you can completely remove the raw human emotion from financial decisions. Money attitudes and habits run deep, according to Consumer Reports.

How can relatives confront contentious money concerns without dynamiting family ties? Because personal finance is as much personal as it is finance, Consumer Reports asked experts from a range of disciplines -- finance, law, psychology, and even preschool education -- to address common family money scenarios. Some of the experts prescribe a warm and fuzzy approach; others tout tough love. Choose the counsel that best fits your style and situation to maintain (or restore) the peace and set out on a secure financial course.

Consumer Reports offers these six strategies to help take the sting out of a thorny money conversation with a family member:

1. Meet in a neutral place. People tend to keep their voices down and control their anger more when they're not at home, says state district court judge John Roach in Collin County, Texas. Roach is the co-author, with his wife, Laura, of "Divorce in Peace: Alternatives to War From a Judge and Lawyer" (Wheatmark, 2016). A casual restaurant is a good venue, Roach says.

Or talk while walking in a natural setting such as a park, says Holly Gillian Kindel, a certified financial planner with Mosaic Financial Partners in San Francisco. "Studies find people are better able to process information and come up with creative ideas while engaged in physical activity in nature," she explains.

2. Focus on one topic. "Too many people try to tackle too much at once," Roach notes. If you and your siblings have to deal with a parent's daily care, for instance, focus first on what it will cost and how you'll pay. Later, discuss who will oversee the care.

3. Hire a pro. If the issue is a particularly contentious one, hiring a neutral person, such as a financial planner or CPA, can help keep conversations on track. The facilitator can also take responsibility for assigning tasks or requiring parties to share documents. "Having a pro involved takes the pressure off of you," says Robert Karn, a wealth manager based in Farmington, Connecticut. "Let him be the bad guy."

4. Listen actively. "Mirroring what someone said in your own words allows them to feel heard and to say whether you're understanding each other," says Jennifer Safian, a divorce mediator based in New York City.

5. Be respectful. "When someone's talking, we tend to anticipate what they're about to say and interrupt them," Roach says. "Conversations break down at that moment." Fight the temptation and wait your turn.

6. Agree to disagree. No amount of talking can guarantee that you'll get another person to see things your way, Roach says. When you reach an impasse, you sometimes have to be prepared to let it go and move on.

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To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

The healing power of a heart-healthy diet

Dietary advice for preventing heart disease used to focus on numbers. How many grams of fiber should you consume? How many milligrams of sodium is too much? What percentage of your calories should come from fat?

Consumer Reports says that if you follow these tips, the numbers will take care of themselves:

-- Redesign your plate. Make vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and beans the centerpieces of your meals, says Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Those foods contain heart-protective antioxidants, fiber and healthy fats. Though eating more of each of those foods cuts heart disease risk some, an overall plant-based diet has an even greater effect. One study of about 450,000 adults found that people whose diets were 70 percent plants had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease over 12 years compared with those whose diets centered on meat and dairy.

-- Think of meat as a condiment. That means eating beef, poultry and pork occasionally or in small, 3- to 4-ounce portions -- about the size of a deck of cards. Especially avoid processed meats, such as bacon, deli meat and sausage, Consumer Reports says. A review by Harvard researchers linked a daily serving, equal to one hot dog or two slices of bacon, to an increased risk of early death from heart disease and cancer.

-- Limit sweets. Too much added sugar -- sugar that is put into foods, not the naturally occurring sugar found mainly in fruits and dairy -- raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to a 2014 review in the journal Open Heart. Limiting sugary beverages, the leading source of added sugars in the American diet, is key.

-- Don't fear all fat. Many fatty foods -- avocados, fatty fish (like salmon), nuts, seeds and olive and other vegetable oils -- are rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats, Consumer Reports notes. New U.S. Dietary Guidelines no longer limit how much of those fats you eat as long as you keep your total calories in check.

But you should still try to avoid foods packed with saturated fat (such as meat, cheese and butter) and trans fat (in foods with partially hydrogenated oils). Those foods cause your body to produce more cholesterol, the substance that gets deposited in your artery walls.

-- Swap saturated fat-laden foods for those rich in unsaturated fats. A 2015 Harvard study found that substituting 5 percent of saturated fat in your diet with the unsaturated variety lowered heart disease risk by up to 25 percent, depending on the foods chosen.

-- Give eggs a go. New research shows that the cholesterol in food has a smaller impact on your overall cholesterol levels than once thought. For foods that are high in cholesterol but low in saturated fat -- such as eggs, lobster and shrimp -- a serving each day is fine.

-- Minimize processed foods. You don't have to avoid everything in a bag or a box, but such foods do tend to be higher in refined grains, sugar and, especially, sodium.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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