Have You Kissed Your Pharmacist Today?

As many as 67% of patients don’t talk to their pharmacists about their medications, probably because they don’t know that pharmacists are trained to counsel them about their meds – not just count pills into bottles. It’s not surprising, then, that lots of people don’t take their medications correctly. Since prescription drug use is rising steadily (48% – up from 44% in 2000) it makes sense to learn as much as possible about the drugs you take. What, exactly, do you take? Why do you take it? What are the side effects? Are there alternatives that are cheaper? Safer? Pharmacists can help with these questions, so get to know that person behind the counter! In the meantime, here are a few things your pharmacist would like you to know:

Pharmacists are medical experts.

You may think a pharmacist just dispenses drugs but they are the most highly educated health professionals when it comes to the area of medication. They know more than your doctor about the drugs you take, so take advantage of that knowledge. Your pharmacist is the last line of defense between you and substances that are potentially toxic – even lethal.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Health literacy is a big problem in the U.S. Being educated about the drugs you take means keeping you and your family safe. The only way to know is to ask.

Follow your dosage instructions!

OK. We’ve all done it – skipped a pill this morning and took two this evening. Or decided not to finish all the pills in the bottle because we felt better after a few days. Taking antibiotics incorrectly leads to resistance; their widespread misuse has lead to new strains of bacterium like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a virulent flesh-eating microorganism. We could eventually render antibiotics useless by using them incorrectly. No one wants to return to the diseases our grandparents witnessed or worse – so make sure you understand how to take your medicines and follow through.

Keep track of all your medications—especially if you’re a parent.

Pharmacists say that it’s common for patients to come in and say their prescriptions have been stolen. Recreational prescription drug use is common and most people who abuse prescription meds get them from friends or relatives. It’s easy to raid the medicine cabinet; kids learn a lot about which drugs to take from their peers. So keep them away from your kids and people in your circle with addiction problems. Hide them or lock them up and know how many you’ve taken.

Practice proper disposal of your drugs.

Drug contamination shows up in ground water and city water supplies so don’t throw excess pills in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Local Drug Enforcement Agencies have programs for proper disposal – talk to your pharmacist about possible programs in your area.

Pay attention to where and how long you keep your medications.

Keeping extra pills in the medicine cabinet in case you get sick again is not a good idea. All drugs have an expiration date and some drugs develop toxicity over time. Old medication can make you sick, so pay attention. Storage is also an issue. Most drugs degrade in a hot or a humid environment – like the bathroom. Your pharmacist can tell you how to store medications properly.

Use a local pharmacist.

Some people use multiple pharmacies to save money or get their prescriptions filled online. But using one pharmacist/pharmacy for all your medications can reduce the possibility of having a dangerous drug interaction or allergic reaction. The more your pharmacist knows about you and your medications – the better.

Consider using generic drugs.

People generally prefer name brands, whether it’s a can of peaches or a prescription drug. But because pharmacies must dispense products that are comparable to label brand products, generics have equivalent chemical properties to label brands. Once a patent on a label brand expires, other companies can manufacture a generic version of the drug with the same active ingredients, under a different name. They’re cheaper and most of the time work just as well. There are a few exceptions – if you’re nervous, ask your pharmacist. She’ll know which ones are appropriate for you.

Don’t be afraid to ask about over-the-counter drugs and vitamins.

Pharmacists know all about those over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and supplements, too. More drugs are being sold over the counter so there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. OTC drugs can interact with prescription drugs and with one another so don’t guess. Take that bottle over to your pharmacist and ask.

Your neighborhood pharmacist IS a font of knowledge. She can keep you out of trouble with your prescription drugs and could even save your life. Even so, the world of pharmacy isn’t all roses – here are a few things you should know that your pharmacist probably WON’T tell you:

Think you’re smarter than your pharmacist? Think again.

Prescriptions for pain or insomnia get extra scrutiny.

This isn’t McDonald’s.

Drive-through windows are a distraction for the pharmacist working the counter inside. Distraction and pharmaceuticals don’t mix: reconsider using the drive-through.

Generics are a great idea most of the time, BUT……

When it comes to blood thinners or thyroid drugs, for example, small differences can be a big deal. Ask your pharmacist if generic equivalents are safe in your case.

Pharmacists hate your insurance company as much as you do.

Insurance companies may insist that you switch drugs, even when you’re happy with them. Pharmacists get stuck in the middle but the person you really need to talk to doesn’t work behind the counter. Call your plan. If more people did insurance companies would be more responsive to patients’ needs.

Pharmacists don’t just recommend meds for the flu.

In most states they can give flu shots – maybe you’ll never catch it.

Pharmacists are human.

They make mistakes. Ask if your local pharmacy uses a barcode system to keep you from receiving the wrong drug or the wrong strength of the right drug.

Your pill might look different from the one you got last time.

Pharmacists can give you a generic refill that’s different from the one you started with. If something looks different, ask.

Pharmacists are not mind readers.

So far, there’s no giant database that tracks your prescriptions and flags interactions for all pharmacists. Use one pharmacy. If you start using a new one, get to know your pharmacist. Be sure they know what you’re taking.

Avoid the lines.

Mondays and Tuesdays are busy because many new prescriptions and refills come in after the weekend.

You know those $4 generics?

Don’t assume you have to go to Wal-Mart or Target to get them. Ask your local pharmacist if he can match the price.

Yelling won’t help.

If your pharmacist can’t reach your doctor and/or insurance company to approve a refill, there’s nothing he can do about it. Yes, it’s frustrating, but giving it to you anyway is illegal and will put his license in jeopardy. He’s not going to do it.

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