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Before You Pop Those Pills, Ask Questions

Survey shows you should check side effects, reactions with other drugs

FRIDAY, July 12 (HealthDayNews)-- You would be wise to ask a few questions of your pharmacist when you fill your prescriptions.

Americans could be undermining the benefits of their medicines, and even risking their health, by not getting enough information about their prescription drugs, according to recent research.

A survey of 1,001 people aged 18 and up found that, while the large majority of them had a basic knowledge of the medicines they took, only half asked their pharmacists questions about possible side effects and only a fifth asked if their medicine was safe to take with over-the-counter medicines or herbal treatments.

Problems ranging from drowsiness when a medication is taken at the wrong time to the risks of combining over-the-counter medicines with prescribed medicines can be lessened if a patient spends some time talking to the pharmacist, says Suzy Cohen, spokeswoman for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which created the survey.

"For instance, people should ask their pharmacists about the use of non-steroidals, like ibuprofen, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems like bleeding and can also elevate blood pressure, especially when combined with prescribed medications," she says.

Pharmacists, who are licensed by their states, spend five to six years in training and are well-versed in how drugs work within the body and how they interact with each other.

"We are walking encyclopedias when it comes to drugs," she says. "People should ask us questions."

For the survey, respondents were asked 16 questions about getting prescription drugs, how much they talked to their pharmacists about their medications, and the kinds of questions they asked their pharmacists.

The scores on the survey were the highest when people were questioned about taking their specific medicines. When asked if they took their medicine exactly as recommended, the average score was 84. The average score was 86 when respondents were asked if they knew why they were taking the medicine. To the questions of whether they read the written information that came with the medicine and whether they understood it, the scores were 81 and 77, respectively.

However, the score dropped to an average of 53 when people were asked whether they had asked their doctor or pharmacist about any precautions they should use when they took the medicine. It lowered even further, to 41, when it came to whether they had asked any other questions about their drugs.

The lowest score was 19, when people were asked whether they had questioned their pharmacist or doctor about the risks of combining their prescription medicine with over-the-counter medicines, herbal treatments or nutritional supplements they were taking.

"People think herbal treatments and vitamins are natural, not drugs, and think, 'Why should I bother someone about them,'" says C. W. Fetrow, a clinical specialist in pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "But there are a lot of interactions between drugs and herbal treatments, and people should absolutely ask."

Women aged 35 to 54 had the overall highest score on the index, 65, meaning they were the best-informed and most willing to ask questions of the pharmacist, while men and women under 35 had the lowest overall score, 53.

"Our hope is that the public will utilize the pharmacist to help them become RxSmart and live healthier lives," Cohen says.

What To Do

Take a quiz to find out how smart you are about taking your prescription medicine at Pharmacy Care Quiz. Some information about the pitfalls of drug interactions can be found at Arthritis.com.

SOURCES: Suzy Cohen, RPh., CPh., pharmacist, nationally syndicated pharmaceutical columnist, and spokeswoman, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Alexandria, Va.; Charles Fetrow, Pharm.D., clinical specialist, pharmacy, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Passavant Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pa.; National Association of Chain Drug Stores phone survey
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