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North Hills Monthly

Questions about Your Medication? Ask a Pharmacist

Aug 29, 2019 09:20AM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Lincoln Pharmacy in Millvale

When I was 20, I was prescribed amoxicillin for what the doctor thought was a sinus infection. Even though I had taken penicillin products for two decades with no problem, after a week on the medication with no improvement, I woke up with a head to toe itchy rash. Later it was determined that I had mono, and the virus that causes mono will negatively interact with penicillin or penicillin derivative.

Fantastic.

Since that time, my medical chart has reflected an allergy to penicillin, although I doubt it’s a true allergy. Still, until I get tested, I’ve been very careful about any antibiotics I take. I recently had a sinus and ear infection and was told that the most effective drug had a slight crossover with penicillin. The Urgent Care doctor told me that there was a 5 percent chance of breaking out again, but it was probably okay to take. With the memory of that amoxicillin reaction seared in my brain, “probably” wasn’t good enough.

Rather than calling my primary care physician, I called my pharmacist. Not only was she incredibly knowledgeable about that particular antibiotic and the likelihood of a reaction, but she was able to look up my record of past prescriptions and assured me that I had taken the same antibiotic a few years earlier. 

Score one for the pharmacist.

“It is important to understand that pharmacists are a great resource for drug information. It is always good to ask the pharmacist any questions, and to listen to what the pharmacist says,” said Laura Schmidt, pharmacist at Lincoln Pharmacy in Millvale.

After all, pharmacists are the medication experts and can answer questions ranging from how and where medication should be stored, to potential side effects, to whether or not the prescription should be taken with food. More importantly, they can tell you if there are any interactions with other prescriptions or over-the-counter medications or herbs.

In addition to the above, Schmidt said she also gets questions about what time of day to take medications, expiration dates, and what to do if you miss a dose.

“Get to know your pharmacist,” said Jay Adzema, proprietor of Adzema Pharmacy in McCandless. “It is important to know your pharmacist and for your pharmacist to know you; it should not be an anonymous relationship. You should have an enjoyable, hassle-free experience at your pharmacy.”

Schmidt agrees wholeheartedly. “We’re the first line, and it’s a lot easier to get hold of the pharmacist and ask questions as opposed to getting hold of the doctor,” she said. “We can take the time to talk and explain things to the patient; doctors are rushed and don’t always have time to answer questions. 

“It’s also nice to get that little extra attention to help guide you through a new medication,” she said of customers anxious about starting a new medicine.

Pharmacies are legally required to offer counseling to patients picking up prescriptions, and though many people opt out of it, Schmidt said that she nevertheless counsels customers when they pick up new medications.

Whether or not they do opt for counseling, Adzema said that customers should take advantage of their pharmacist’s knowledge and ask questions on topics of concern—for example, over-the-counter herbs. 

“We have a lot of people who want to take natural products, and they have a feeling that there is no interaction with their medications. This is absolutely wrong: these need to be thought of and treated as medications—that includes all over-the-counter medications, not just nutritionals,” he said.

He added that more customers are now asking about CBD, which is a good thing, considering that many people are ill-informed and are not getting their information from reputable sources. “They need to understand that CBD is a medication and it should be treated as such,” he said. “Pharmacists are medication experts, and people should talk to their pharmacists about it.”

Schmidt also receives questions about CBD, including its legality, efficacy, and how different CBD products compare. Currently, Lincoln Pharmacy does not carry CBD products.

“I have a hard time recommending products because I don’t know the efficacy, and I don’t want to sell something to patients not knowing if it can really help them,” said Schmidt, adding that she does advise those buying CBD to make sure the products are purchased from reputable manufacturers.

The neighborhood pharmacy is often more than just a place to pick up prescriptions. Adzema said that his pharmacy offers flu and other immunizations as well as diabetes and dietary counseling.

“We do vaccinations here,” said Schmidt of the services at Lincoln Pharmacy, “and we offer specialized packaging to help patients remember when to take their medications. We also have a delivery service.”

She encourages all of the pharmacy’s customers to ask questions, especially if they have medication concerns.

“We are drug experts; that is what we know,” she explained. “We may know more than even the doctor, as far as a drug is concerned. A lot of times, we’ll be able to give additional information that the doctor didn’t give them. Doctors are the diagnosis experts, and we are the medication experts.”