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FDA Pharmacists Help You Use Medicines Safely


How often has this happened to you: You pick up a prescription at the pharmacy and later realize you have questions about something in the directions or warnings. Or you buy a nonprescription drug but aren’t sure about the correct dosage after reading the label.

That’s where pharmacists come in. Whether at your local pharmacy or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, pharmacists help patients achieve the best possible 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 answer questions about other drugs and foods that can cause an interaction and advise you to consult with your health care professional when your usual medication is unavailable.

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

What Your Pharmacist Should Know

“Help your pharmacist get to know you and what questions you have,” says pharmacist Mary E. Kremzner, a public health expert at the FDA. “Pharmacists really want to help people get the maximum benefit from the drugs they need to take, 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 changing how it works,” Kremzner says.

Another risk is interactions – food-drug or drug-drug. “For example, if you take a statin to lower your cholesterol, you might need to avoid drinking large amounts of grapefruit juice because it can make some drugs too powerful, even toxic,” says pharmacist Lindsay Wagner, a public health expert at the FDA. “However, the strength of the interaction varies among drugs. If grapefruit juice is part of your daily routine, your pharmacist can recommend that you consult with your health care professional about an alternative so you can enjoy your juice safely.”

Let your pharmacist know what questions you have about the information you’ve received. This includes the instructions from your prescriber, information you received from the pharmacy, or articles you’ve read online. Conflicting advice and information can leave anyone confused.

False information about medical products can add to the confusion. False information can be spread by people who don’t even know it is false, including people you know, like your friends and family. Pharmacists are there to help sort through what you’ve heard.

“We’re here to help. We do our best to answer every question and help consumers find trustworthy and credible sources for information,” Wagner says.

Your pharmacist should know:

  • Everything you take for your health. All medications you take (prescription and nonprescription) as well as all vitamins and supplements.
  • Your medical history and experience with medications, including allergic reactions and side effects.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding (nursing).
  • If you have trouble swallowing pills, opening bottles, reading labels, or remembering when to take your medicine.
  • Questions you have about what you’ve been told or read online about your medication.

How FDA Pharmacists Can Help

Call your local pharmacist or the FDA’s drug information pharmacists if you have questions after receiving a medicine.

The FDA’s Division of Drug Information (DDI) is home to a staff of pharmacists who respond to questions about human drugs for the U.S. public. DDI gets several hundred calls and emails each day, with more than half of them from consumers.

FDA pharmacists can even help you identify a tablet or pill. For example, there may be many different approved generics that can be substituted 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 to some people. When in doubt, call your local pharmacist or the FDA if you have questions about whether they are the same product. We also can help you understand the medications you’re taking.”

What Consumers Ask the FDA

When in doubt, reach out to us and ask. Here are some of the top questions DDI pharmacists answer.

Q. What are the possible side effects of my medicine, and how can I report my experience to the FDA?

A. Approved drugs have benefits as well as side effects, which are listed in the drug’s labeling. If you didn’t receive a printout with your medication, you can find the labeling online from Drugs@FDA or labels.fda.gov.

For nonprescription drugs (also called over-the-counter, or OTC), you can find side effects in the “Drug Facts” labeling printed on the outer wrapper or container of the drug.

To report a side effect or medication error, use the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:

  • Complete and submit the report online.
  • Download the form or call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form sent to you in the mail, then complete and return to the address on the form, or submit it by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178.

Q. Where should I go to find information online about my medications and health?

A. The FDA website fda.gov/drugs offers truthful, science-based information about prescription and nonprescription drugs. We also recommend MedlinePlus (medlineplus.gov), a service of the National Institutes of Health that provides health information for consumers.

Q. Are generic drugs the same as brand-name drugs?

A. Yes. 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. Generics also reach the site of action in the body at the same rate and extent as the brand-name drugs.

Q. Will this treatment I read about online help or hurt me?

A. You should be aware that there is false and misleading information about medical products online that can put patients and consumers at risk. For example, health fraud scams will try to sell you treatments that are not proven to work and may cause serious or even fatal injuries. Scams are very common today, especially on social media. If you’re unsure, ask your local pharmacist or health care professional, or contact the FDA.

Q. How do I discard medicine I no longer need?

A. The best way to dispose of most types of unused or expired medicines is to drop off the medicine at a drug take back location immediately. Many pharmacies also serve as take back locations.

Certain medicines should be flushed down the sink or toilet because they are especially harmful and can cause death in a single dose. Flushing medicines on the flush list helps make sure children, pets, or anyone else does not accidentally take the medicine. If you can’t get to a take back location and your medication is not on the flush list, you may be able to dispose of it safely in your household trash by following some simple instructions.

Stay Informed and Get Updates from the FDA

The FDA shares information about drugs through email updates and social media. Stay informed by following the FDA’s official social media accounts, including:

Subscribing to email alerts is easy, and there are many important topics.

How to Contact FDA’s Drug Information Pharmacists

  • By email: druginfo@fda.hhs.gov
  • By phone: 1-855-543-3784 and 1-301-796-3400

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