December #140 : Think Inside the Box - by Laura Whitehorn

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Precious Stone

More Than Just a Number

Dodging Danger

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December 2007

Think Inside the Box

by Laura Whitehorn

A study confirms a simple—and often stylish—route to better HIV-med adherence.

In a four-year San Francisco study, people who used pillboxes to organize and carry their HIV meds had better health results than those who didn’t. Pillbox users not only ended up with better track records for adherence; they also did better at suppressing HIV—so much so that the study’s authors suggest making pillboxes standard issue with HIV meds. The users seemed to recognize quickly when they’d missed a dose, and to take meds more regularly because they had them handy at all times. Missing doses may allow HIV to adapt and resist the drugs, so an adherence helper can make a big difference in your long-term health.

Here, five different boxes to pair with your treatment—and your lifestyle.

1. For the adventurer: A plain old mini tackle box, separated by dividers, offers waterproof, accident-proof security. And it can be had for less than $10 at a sporting or fishing goods store or online (

2. For the heavy hitter: If you take handfuls of pills every day (not only for HIV, say, but also for depression or anxiety, allergies or stomach ills) plus vitamins and supplements, try one with multiple compartments for different doses (Duane Reade).

3. For the two-timer: Is your daily combo a few pills taken twice a day? Keep your doses with you to avoid being thrown by last-minute schedule changes (Duane Reade).

4. For the fashionista: Pillboxes that slip easily into a purse or pocket, complement your outfit—and keep your HIV status from becoming the evening’s surprise accessory ($40 at

5. For the fly-by-nighter: Carry an extra dose of your combo on your key ring at all times—in case you get an overnight offer you can’t refuse (Duane Reade).



Christine Harris, Buda, TX

Diagnosed 2002
I use a seven-day, A.M./P.M. divided container.  Some pharmacy bottles are hard to open, and this way, I open them only once a week to refill the pillbox. The box—large enough for horse-size pills plus my other meds, supplements and herbs—can be rather bulky. Once, while traveling with some other HIV-positive ladies, I was asked if I had a billy club in my overstuffed suitcase. We got a good laugh out of it.

Jack Miller, Jersey City
Diagnosed 1994
My pillbox holds my vitamins, supplements and HIV meds all in one place for the day. It is divided into the days of the week. When I miss doses, it shows me where I need to improve.

Tim Birdwell, Kansas City, MO
Diagnosed 2005
I have two pillboxes, each with seven days’ worth of A.M. and P.M. pullout slots. When I travel I can take exactly what I need for the amount of time I’ll be gone.

Monica Johnson, Columbia, LA
Diagnosed 1989
I have a leather Fossil-brand pillbox with a flower design and  two compartments. I refill it every night so that I have what I need each day. I can take it out anywhere without feeling that everyone is looking at it. 

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