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  1. Consumer Updates

FDA Pharmacists Help Consumers Use Medicines Safely

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How often has this happened to you? You pick up a prescription at the pharmacy and later realize you don’t understand something on the label. Or you buy an over-the-counter (OTC) drug but aren’t sure about the correct dosage.

That’s where pharmacists come in. Whether at your local pharmacy or the Food and Drug Administration, pharmacists help patients achieve the best outcome when taking drugs.

Pharmacists can help people take their medicine properly and continue to take it for as long as recommended. For example, they can package your tablets so it’s easier to remember when to take them, and give you a reminder card.

Pharmacists are a bridge between the patient and the doctor/prescriber and experts at interpreting information for patients.

What Your Pharmacist Should Know

“Help your pharmacist to know you and understand any limitations to your care,” says FDA’s Mary E. Kremzner, Pharm.D., M.P.H. “Pharmacists really want to help people get the maximum benefit from what’s prescribed with the least amount of risk.”

For example, some large pills are hard to swallow. “The pharmacist will know the drug’s makeup and whether you can crush it without altering its effectiveness or release rate,” Kremzner says.

Another risk is interactions—food-drug or drug-drug. “For example, if you take a blood thinner, don’t eat too many dark leafy greens, because the vitamin K can decrease the drug’s effect,” says FDA’s Lindsay Wagner, Pharm.D. “The interaction can depend on the patient, the drug, or how often you eat certain foods.”

Your pharmacist should know:

  • Everything you take for your health: all medications, dietary supplements, herbal supplements and vitamins.
  • Your medical history and experience with medications, including allergic reactions and side effects.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • If you have trouble swallowing pills, opening bottles, reading labels or remembering when to take your medicine.

FDA Can Help

When you leave the pharmacy, you might have more questions. Call the pharmacist or FDA.

FDA’s Division of Drug Information (DDI) will answer almost any drug question. It gets more than 200 calls a day—50 percent of them from consumers—and can even help you identify a tablet or pill. “If it’s not something within our scope, we’ll point the consumer in the right direction,” Wagner says.

There are many generics manufactured for one brand-name drug, and their tablets can look different. “Generic drugs can vary in size, shape and color and still be the same medicine,” Kremzner says. “That can be confusing. When in doubt, call your local pharmacy or FDA to confirm that they are the same product. We also can help you understand the medications you’re taking.”

What Consumers Ask FDA

Here are the top questions DDI pharmacists (1-855-543-DRUG) get.

1. What are the possible side effects of my medicine, and where can I find the most current information about the drugs I take?

A. All prescription and OTC drugs can have side effects, which are listed on the drug label. You can find the label for most FDA-approved prescription drugs at Drugs@FDA and the Web site DailyMed. For over-the-counter drugs, you can find side effects in the “Drug Facts” printed on the outer wrapper or container of the drug.

2. How do I report a bad reaction to a medicine or a medication error to FDA?

A. Use FDA’s MedWatch program. Complete and submit the report online: www.fda.gov/MedWatch/report.htm. Download the form or call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form, then complete and return it to the address on the pre-addressed form, or submit it by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178.

3. Are generic drugs the same as brand name drugs?

A. Yes. Federal law requires generic drugs to be the same as brand-name drugs in dosage, safety, strength, quality, the way they works, the way they are taken, and the way they should be used. The generics must also enter and distribute in the body in an acceptably similar manner as the brand name drugs.

4. How can I find out when a generic will be available for a medicine I take?

A. No one can predict when a generic might become available in the future. To find if a generic is available today for a medicine you take, use Drugs@FDA, a catalog of FDA-approved drug products, to find “therapeutic equivalents” (generic drugs). You can also search the Electronic Orange Book.

5. How do I discard medicine that I no longer need?

A. You can simply throw away most medicines in the household trash after mixing them with coffee grounds or kitty litter and sealing the mixture in a container. Certain medicines may be especially harmful or even fatal in a single dose. You should flush those down the sink or toilet so they cannot be accidentaly taken by children, pets or anyone else.

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