The best source of information regarding prescription and over the counter medications is not a search engine, social media site, or phone app. It’s your pharmacist! Not only are they legally required to do a “9-point check” for each prescription going in and out of the pharmacy, they are also equipped with the skills and knowledge for your day-to-day health and wellness.
Involve your pharmacist in your curiosity! Speak with them about their special position as a member of your healthcare team. If you would like some help to get you started, take this list of five questions with you to the pharmacy.
1. “Will this interact with any of my other medications?”
Here’s the scene: you’re on vacation with an urgent medical need, and you’ve never used this pharmacy. Maybe it feels familiar because this location is part of the same chain as the pharmacy you use back home. Should you trust that this pharmacy team knows your current prescription list? Absolutely not!
This team would have no reason to be familiar with your current medications or diagnoses. The pharmacist would not know to tell you how to safely take your prescriptions unless you ask. Even if a prescription for a short-term condition is not harmful when taken with a maintenance medication, it is worth noting if one medicine changes the efficacy of another.
Take a look at fluconazole and omeprazole, for example. A new-to-you pharmacist only knows that you’ve been prescribed a common antifungal medication. Unless you tell them, they would have no way of knowing you take medication to reduce stomach acid and would not know to counsel you how to space the drugs apart.
2. “What food or activities should I avoid while on this prescription?”
A routine gargle and rinse with an alcohol-based mouthwash after brushing your teeth may cause profuse vomiting if you’re taking metronidazole. Fluoroquinolones, a commonly prescribed class of antibiotics, create an increased risk of ruptured tendons. Dairy products compromise the absorption of bisphosphonates. Grapefruit is not friendly with either statins or antidepressants.
Did you know that products with calcium need a 4-hour cushion both before and after a thyroid medication? It’s true! Be sure to double check with your pharmacist before you take home your next prescription regardless of how long you’ve been using it. You might learn why your dosage seems to change every now and then!
3. “What do I do with left over medicine?”
In the rare occurrence of a left over prescription, please don’t pour it down a drain, keep it, or throw it away after mixing it with used coffee grounds. You might think you’re saving yourself some time and money by keeping the remaining medication “just in case.” Instead, save yourself a possible trip to an emergency room by not taking expired medications, medications prescribed to another person, or prescriptions written for a different condition.
Even when your current symptoms feel similar to the symptoms of a diagnosis you’ve been given before, the safety risk is too great to take that determination upon yourself. Your pharmacist is the safest person to ask. They will know how to safely dispose of expired or leftover drugs whether it be a drop-off box at the local sheriff’s office or a drug-dissolving disposal-packet from behind the counter.
4. “What happens if I accidentally miss a dose?”
That prescription bottle isn’t in your overnight bag like you thought it was. It happens to everyone at some point! Skipping a dose will not always be harmful. You may not even notice.
Sometimes, a lapsed dose means the recurrence of a condition’s symptoms. Doubling-up on the next dose is not always a safe option, either. These complications are determined by a patient’s condition and which medication is prescribed. It is better to know what to expect before you accidentally leave it at home than learn about the possible problems after a dose is missed. Even so, call your pharmacist when that vial never made it into your toiletry kit and is probably still on the nightstand.
5. “How can I reduce the cost of these medicines?”
Certain pharmacy chains offer a loyalty program to help lower the cost for maintenance medicines. Generics are legally required to be just as effective as brand-name drugs but can carry one-tenth of the price-tag! Drug reps also frequently leave coupon and co-pay cards at pharmacies for qualifying patients.
When a medication does not yet have an available generic, the pharmacist may know of a manufacturer-based Patient Assistance Program (PAP). These programs are designed to provide free medications to the qualifying uninsured or underinsured individuals who are prescribed them.
You read that correctly! Medication for both acute and chronic conditions may be completely free for you or a loved one prescribed a brand-name product. Your pharmacist would know how to find programs like this and others.
The white lab-coat may seem intimidating, but pharmacists can be extremely helpful. Sure, they are medical specialists with advanced degrees in pharmacology, but they are still just people who, at one point, had to ask these questions, too. Pharmacists are eager to collaborate with your providers on your care and to steer you in your healthiest direction. All you need to do is ask.