Educational Consumer Tips
Prescription Drugs and Pharmacies
Taking Prescription Drugs
Prescription drugs can either cure or control all kinds of ailments. They may be utilized in many ways: from easing a simple headache to prolonging life itself. However, it is not the availability of prescription drugs alone that is the answer to an illness.
The prescription drugs that you bring home from the pharmacy contain potent chemicals. They should be taken carefully to assure that your system benefits from the desired effect. Incorrectly used, prescription drugs may not act on your system as hoped, or worse, may make your condition deteriorate.
Patients should keep in mind that prescription drugs are most effective when used as part of a conscientious and comprehensive program, and not just something to swallow a few times a day, without a second thought.
Assuring a prescription drug's optimum effect is a matter of following a few guidelines which are neither complicated, nor time consuming. Basically, it requires taking an active role in your medication therapy.
Informing the Doctor
The first key to the safe and effective use of any medication is open communication with your physician. A newly met physician cannot know everything about you, and thus needs the patient to act as an information resource.
One of the first items a physician requires from a new patient is his or her medical history. Tell the doctor everything. If you do not, you run the risk of getting a prescription which you may be sensitive or allergic to, or which might interact adversely with something you are already taking.
Withholding information for any reason may prevent you from receiving adequate care. You should be straightforward and give the clearest description possible about the condition which brought you to the doctor's office in the first place.
Be candid with your health provider. When asked for a medical history, be sure to include the following:
- Any prescription or nonprescription drugs you are currently taking. Sleeping pills, aspirin, birth control pills, vitamins, and laxatives -- all could affect the doctor's choice of medication.
- Alcohol can have adverse effects, if mixed with prescription drugs. Tell the doctor if you drink, and how much.
- Do you follow a special diet of any kind? If you do, advise the doctor. Some foods may interfere with your body's ability to absorb medications.
- Do you have allergies such as hayfever or skin allergies? All of these could indicate you might be particularly sensitive to certain prescriptions.
- Have you ever had any adverse reactions to prescriptions in the past? If so, advise your physician.
Examining the Prescription
When you receive the prescription from your doctor, look at it carefully, keeping in mind this rule of thumb: "There is no such thing as a stupid question when you are dealing with prescription drugs."
First, be sure you know what you will be taking. Double check and make certain you understand the dosage, the length of time to take it, and if you should be aware of any side effects.
Also, ask the following questions:
- Can the drugs be taken with food, or on an empty stomach?
- Will the prescription make you more sensitive to heat or cold?
- If you do not seem to be getting any better, how soon should you call your doctor?
- Are refills available?
Taking the Proper Dosage
After you return home from the pharmacy with the medicine, your active role in your therapy continues. The next step in the process is to actually start taking the prescription drug. You should follow the dosage exactly as directed. More is not always better and can even be harmful, unless the physician increases the dosage.
Take the medication for the full length of time as indicated by the prescription and your physician. Allowing your body to "take a break" from a medicine when symptoms disappear may not be advisable, since this could lead to recurrence of an infection or illness.
If you have any questions or concerns about whether to continue taking the drug as prescribed, contact your doctor.
Any patient who is taking more than one medication at a time should be careful to find out if the combination of drugs has any known side effects. It is not just combinations of prescriptions which pose problems. Prescriptions mixed with over-the-counter products can be potentially troublesome as well.
For example, some prescription drugs are potentially toxic, or less effective, if mixed with alcohol or caffeine. However, many over-the-counter cough syrups are alcohol based and may be taken by an unsuspecting patient.
Although it may only be a small amount of alcohol, it is the chemical reaction of the alcohol with another medication which can cause a toxic reaction.
Patients also need to think about diet when taking prescription drugs. Some foods, including milk products, can interfere with the ability of the body to absorb drugs into the blood stream. On the other hand, some prescription drugs are required to be taken with food to prevent stomach irritation.
In general, if you are pregnant and thinking about taking prescription or nonprescription medications, you should do so only after consulting your physician.
If you intend to breast feed the baby, remember that amounts of the drug can pass through the mother's milk to the child. Again, a decision to take prescription or non-prescription drugs while breast feeding should be reached after consultation with your doctor.
Administering Prescription Drugs to Children
The parents' role in a child's drug therapy is vital. As with anyone taking prescriptions, no two drugs should be taken at the same time without a pharmacist's or a physician's knowledge.
Also, following dosage requirements properly is fundamental to controlling and curing a child's illness. In administering the prescription drug to a child, the dosage should be measured very carefully.
For instance, if the dosage is "one teaspoon," that does not mean a kitchen teaspoon, rather a measure called a "volumetric spoon" dispensed by hospitals and pharmacies. Kitchen teaspoons vary too much to be an accurate measure.
Another key to administering prescription drugs properly to children involves reinforcing the importance of the medicine, and the reasons why the medicine must be taken.
Storing Prescription Drugs
An important factor to consider when taking prescription drugs is proper storage, once they are brought home from the pharmacy.
One of the most important things to remember is to keep the medication in its original bottle.
- Do not trust your memory and put the capsules or pills in a separate container.
- Do not mix the prescription with other medications in the same bottle.
- Do not remove the label.
- Do check to be sure you have the right bottle before taking or administering the medicine. Many prescription bottles look alike; a simple error could interfere with your recovery.
Remember that light, heat and humidity may affect prescriptions, so select a place to keep your medications which avoids all three.
For example, if the drug is labeled "store in a cool, dry place," the medicine chest in the bathroom is not the best place to keep it, since the shower creates heat and humidity.
Likewise, the glove compartment of a car may be a bad place to keep drugs due to heat.
Also, since sunlight has a detrimental effect on most drugs, the kitchen window may not be the best place to store any drugs.
You should take the prescription storage instructions seriously. It may be harmful to your health if the medication starts to deteriorate. Stored incorrectly, the drug may begin to decay, and you, the patient, may not receive the full benefit of the drug's potency or may even be harmed.
Selecting a Pharmacy
With all of the factors to be considered when taking prescription drugs -- diet, drug interactions, side effects, storage -- the best advice is to be an informed consumer.
A good source of information for the consumer is the pharmacist. Patients should feel free to discuss prescription and nonprescription products with him or her.
You will want to select a pharmacy where the pharmacist is available to discuss your needs and follow your drug therapy.
One factor to consider when selecting a pharmacy is to look at your special needs as a patient. Do you fill a lot of prescriptions, or just one from time to time? Are you under the care of more than one doctor?
If you take prescriptions regularly, you should take as much time to find a pharmacy as you would to select a physician.
Also, pharmacies are playing a greater role in assuring that patients do not suffer side effects of drug interactions by keeping track of all of the medications prescribed to a single patient.
A pharmacist who keeps records of your medications can act as an additional safeguard against potentially harmful effects of interactions between different products. He also can give you advice about dietary guidelines and suggest whether or not you should take over-the-counter medications with your prescriptions.
There are some medicines that require special compounding by pharmacists. If such a medicine is prescribed for you or one of your family members, the doctor will most likely tell you which local pharmacy offers this service. Remember, if it is not your regular pharmacy, be sure to have the record of the medication transferred to the pharmacy which keeps track of your medicines.
Patient Profile Computers
Most pharmacies maintain a computer system which keeps track of the prescriptions you have had filled for a certain period of time. The advantage of such a system is that the pharmacist may be able to spot potentially harmful combinations of prescription drugs, overuse of a particular pharmaceutical, errors in prescriptions, and potential allergic reactions.
While a computer may help detect potentially harmful combinations of prescription drugs, it will not be able to know which over-the-counter drugs, or prescriptions from a different pharmacy, a patient has taken. You, as the patient, will have to fill in the information. Before you mix any over-the-counter medicines with prescription drugs, you should consult your doctor and have the pharmacists add the information into the computer bank.
Also, if you decide to use a computerized record-keeping system, stay with the same pharmacy. If not, you may have various records at different pharmacies, a situation which may defeat the purpose of the data bank. If you move or decide to change pharmacies, be sure to have the records transferred.
Comparing Prices And Generic Drugs
The same product sold at different pharmacies may vary in price. Thus, from a financial standpoint, it is a good idea to call a few pharmacies to find the best price for a prescription.
Remember when comparing prices, be sure to evaluate the different services the pharmacies may offer.
With many prescription and over-the-counter drugs, consumers can realize important savings by purchasing generic equivalents to name brands. Generic drugs are chemically equivalent to their name brand counterparts.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, generic drugs must be sold in equivalent dosages, have the same active ingredients, undergo a series of tests, and follow all of the same regulations for manufacturing as their name brand counterparts.
Mail Order Buying
Mail order prescription drugs are frequently bought by consumers who use maintenance medications. If you need a prescription immediately, buying by mail may not be a practical solution. However, it may be a solution for people who need large quantities of a medication and who may benefit from the savings of mail order.
As in any mail order business, you will not have the personal nature of the transaction when purchasing your prescriptions by this method. For instance, there are no patient profiles. Since you will not be able to talk directly to the pharmacist, you may want to communicate with your doctor before using mail order prescriptions.
Tips to Remember
- When using prescription drugs, take an active role in your therapy to ensure the success of your medication.
- Be sure to tell the physician and the pharmacist about any other drugs, whether prescription or nonprescription, you are taking.
- Inform the physician and the pharmacist of any allergies or adverse effects to medications you have ever had.
- Follow your doctor's orders: when, how much and how long to take the prescription drug.
- Never give a prescription drug to anyone else, even if you think the person has the same symptoms as yours.
- Follow all directions and/or warnings on the label.
- Be sure to store the drug correctly and keep it in its original container.
- Do not keep expired prescription drugs in your home. Throw them out.
- Ask your physician or pharmacist for any written information about the medicine prescribed.
- Keep the name and phone number of your pharmacy handy, and give them to your physician.
- Select a pharmacy where you will be able to ask the pharmacist questions, and where consumer information is available for you to read.
- Ask if the pharmacy has a computer or some other means of keeping track of the prescription drugs you are taking.
- Ask if the pharmacy will add nonprescription drugs you take to your records.
- Check with your insurance plan to find out about prescription drug coverage.
Contact your hospital, doctor's office, pharmacy, or local library for written information about prescription drugs.
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