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9 Things Your Pharmacist Wants You to Know

How to get the most out of prescriptions and over-the-counter products


(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.

Pharmacists work hard to make sure you get the right prescription, while also providing correct information on each medication you may have questions on. But there are nine important things pharmacists want you to know, listed below:

1. Don’t Store Medication in the Bathroom

The bathroom is probably the last place in house where you should keep your medication — especially your pills, tablets or capsules. Why? Because the moisture and extreme temperature changes can weaken your medications or cause them to spoil before their expiration dates.

The average pharmacist is familiar with at least 200 drugs, including their benefits and side effects.

You’re better off keeping your medications on your nightstand or in a kitchen cabinet away from the stove. Just make sure if grandkids come to visit that your medications are stored somewhere safely away and out of sight.

2. Don’t Flush Medications Down the Toilet

With the exception of certain pain medications, most medications shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet. Many medications do not break down completely in water, and traces have been detected in drinking water as a direct result of flushing unused drugs. Here’s what you should do:

  • Some pharmacies and county agencies have medication take-back programs that allow you to return expired or unused medications for disposal. Keep in mind you can return most medications, but not controlled substances.
  • Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has some great tips about how to get rid of old medication here.
  • Pain medications that contain hydrocodone or other ingredients related to opium are flushable, according to the FDA. You can see a list of medications the FDA says are safe to flush here. (Keep in mind, though, that certain cities may advise against flushing. Check with your public health department or a law enforcement agency.)

3. There’s a Correct Way to Take Over-the-Counter Meds

Just because you can buy certain drugs over-the-counter (OTC) doesn’t mean they are 100 percent safe to take in any amount. You can ingest too much of anything — no matter what it is. OTC drugs — as well as other non-prescriptions products like herbs and supplements — contain information on the label that describes the best way to use those products safely.

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you shouldn’t take more than the prescribed amount. Many OTC drugs contain similar or related ingredients, making it very easy to overdose when you combine products. If you’re unsure of something about an OTC product, ask your doctor or pharmacist. Also, since the pharmacy where you fill your prescriptions already has your prescription list, someone there can easily double check to see whether an OTC product will interact with the prescription drugs you’re already taking.

4. Sometimes Less Really Is Better

This is especially important when you are applying creams, gels or ointments to your skin. For example, certain medications like Retin-A, used to treat acne and wrinkles, make your skin very sensitive to the sun. Apply more than the recommended amount, and you might end up with a rash, unsightly peeling or worse. Sometimes, the prescription your doctor wrote may not tell you how much to apply. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor before you leave his or her office how much to apply or to ask your pharmacist if you’re unsure if you’re applying too much product.

5. Never Share Your Prescriptions

This may sound like a public service announcement, but the reality is that everyone is different and your doctor prescribed your medication specifically for you and only you. You might have a drug allergy or health condition that would make a shared drug dangerous for you to take.

6. Not All Pills Are Meant to Be Split

People have reasons for splitting pills — for instance, the doctor lowers your dose, splitting makes them easier to swallow or you want to save money. In general, you shouldn’t split pills that come in extended-release, controlled-release or sustained release form because breaking them weakens the special coatings that help the drug last longer inside the body. Some drugs are put into capsules because of their bad taste.

If you’re splitting your medications to save money, talk to your pharmacist. Quite often, that person can help you find more affordable solutions that allow you to take your medications without putting your health at risk. If you think you don’t need the full dose of medication, a pharmacist can also work with your doctor to find a solution.

7. Pharmacists Are Drug Specialists

Pharmacists receive more training than any other medical professional — including doctors and nurses who prescribe — in pharmacology. In fact, the average pharmacist is familiar with at least 200 drugs, including their benefits and side effects, possibly more. So if you have a question about a medication, ask.

8. Pharmacists Don’t Diagnose Diseases

Pharmacists are not trained to diagnose illnesses. They are trained in how to use medications safely and effectively. That said, they can give you suggestions on how to treat a condition only after it’s been diagnosed or you tell them what you have. So, if you ask how to treat your bee sting, the pharmacist can give you recommendations on what to do based on what it looks like and your symptoms. However, if you say, “Hey, what can I do for this?” and point to some mysterious-looking sore, you’ll probably be told to see your doctor because the pharmacist can’t help you treat something without knowing what it is first.

9. You Can Meet With Your Pharmacist One-On-One

You may be eligible for a one-on-one meeting with a pharmacist once a year. The meeting can be face-to-face or over the phone, and is typically done by a different pharmacist than the one who normally fills your prescriptions. These meetings depend on the type of insurance plan you have, your health conditions and the medications you are taking.

During the session, the pharmacist will review your medications and ask you some questions to make sure you’re getting the most out of your medications. Many people who have Medicare Part D coverage are eligible for a one-on-one meeting, but if you have Medicaid and live in certain states or have other health care plans, you may also be eligible. Because this is a special service your insurance company provides, call the insurer for details.

By Frieda Wiley, PharmD
Frieda Wiley, PharmD, CGP, RPh, is a board-certified geriatric pharmacist and freelance medical writer based in the Piney Woods of East Texas. She enjoys using her background in patient care to empower people with more knowledge about living well.@frieda_wiley

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