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Have Questions About Your Medications? The FDA Says to Ask Your Pharmacist!

Senior woman buying medicine in the pharmacy while female African American pharmacist is assisting her

You’ve heard of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—the FDA. This agency is responsible for protecting the health of people in the U.S. by controlling and supervising everything from food to cosmetics, and they’re also the agency that regulates prescription drugs and other medications.

But did you know that the FDA not only regulates medications, but also offers advice for consumers about the medications they take? FDA pharmacists answer lots of questions from consumers, and they assure us that our own pharmacists also can be a big help.

Pharmacist Mary E. Kremzner, who is a public health expert at the FDA, urges consumers to take advantage of the expertise of their pharmacists. “Help your pharmacist get to know you and what questions you have,” says Kremzner. “Pharmacists really want to help people get the maximum benefit from the drugs they need to take, with the least amount of risk.”

Kremzner says that your pharmacist should know about all the medications you take, both prescription and nonprescription, including vitamins, supplements and herbal preparations. They should know your medical history, and if you have any allergies.

Pharmacists can offer advice about how to take a certain drug and how to avoid serious interactions. They can clear up confusion for patients. Maybe you saw something on social media, or googled a drug you take, or ran across an article about it, and now you’re uncertain. “Misinformation can add to the confusion. Many people who share misinformation don’t realize the information is false,” say FDA experts. “Misinformation can come from people you know, like your friends and family, making it especially difficult to tell truth from fiction. Pharmacists are there to help sort through what you’ve heard.”

The FDA shares seven common questions patients have for their pharmacist:

  1. What should I do if I have trouble swallowing pills, opening pill bottles, or remembering to take my medications? Pharmacists can offer helpful advice, such as tricks for swallowing pills or possibly an alternate form of your medication; pill organizing devices to keep track of doses; and alternative packaging that’s easier to open for people with vision loss or arthritis.
  2. Are generic drugs really the same as brand-name drugs? “Yes,” says the FDA. “Federal law requires generic drugs to be the same as brand-name drugs. They are as safe and effective and meet the same quality standards as brand-name drugs. They are the same in the way they work, the way they are taken, and the way they should be used.”
  3. What if I refill a prescription, but the product looks different? Many different approved generics can be substituted for a brand-name drug, and these pills or tablets can be different colors and shapes. “That can be confusing,” Kremzner acknowledges. “When in doubt, call your local pharmacist or the FDA if you have questions about whether they are the same product.” The phone number is 1-855-543-3784; you can also email druginfo@fda.hhs.gov.
  4. How can I learn the possible side effects of a new prescription drug? Your pharmacist will most likely provide you with a printout with your medications. If they don’t, ask. You can also find that information on the FDA website (labels.fda.gov). For nonprescription drugs, the information should be on the packaging.
  5. What if I saw a TV commercial for a product claiming it can improve my health? The FDA warns that health fraud scams are rampant these days. Before you throw away your money—and possibly harm your health—by purchasing an unproven treatment, ask your pharmacist, your doctor, or the FDA.
  6. I have a prescription drug that I don’t need to take anymore. What should I do? The FDA says the best thing to do is to drop off the medication at a drug take-back location. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a site. If drop-off is not available, ask about other recommended disposal methods, which vary from drug to drug. (And just a reminder—be sure to ask your doctor before you stop taking a prescription medication.)
  7. Where can I find other accurate, credible information about the medications I take? If you have other questions about your medications, ask your pharmacist, whether that is at the local drug store or in your senior living community. You can also visit the FDA’s drug information website (fda.gov/drugs), where you can find information about specific medications and products, vaccines, ordering medications online, COVID treatments, medication disposal, and many other topics.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider.

Source: IlluminAge with information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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