Mar 26, 2010

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

My parentswere both born and raised in Canada but they got married in Cambridge, England. I always enjoyed their tales about life in England and their trips to places like France and Portugal. One of my favorite characters from their stories was their friend Shugoon. Shugoon was a Nigerian guy my mom described as 5 feet tall, black as the ace of spades with an infectious laugh. On one trip they all stayed in a hotel. Just as my parents were settling in for the night, Shugoon burst into their room. There was an animal in his bed! My parents went back with him to investigate, and found a hot water bottle under his covers. You see in England, central heating was not common and a hot water bottle was a way to warm up a bed before getting in.

The Shugoon story reminds me I going on a sabbatical. Im going to be a submarine captain for a week. Will you fill in at the pharmacy for me? Thanks. Im excited about my submarine trip, but hot racking creeps me out a bit. You see on a sub when you are done your shift, you get to sleep in a bunk that someone from the previous shift just got out of. It is still warm, thus hot racking. Ill let you know how it goes.

You arrive at the pharmacy and put on your white coat. You find a counter to stand behind. You manage to look wise, concerned and not too goofy all at the same time. Then the phone rings. The customer on the line says, I feel like I have a cold coming on. Ive got these pills in the bathroom. They are spelled T-E-T-R-A-C-Y-C-L-I-N-E. They were prescribed to my daughter 2 years ago. Will they help me? Questions like this one are quite common in our pharmacy. Here are your choices:

a) Tell him to go ahead and take them. Whats the worst that can happen?

b) Tell him that it is completely reasonable for a patient to self diagnosis his illness and select a drug that is probably expired, will probably harm him, and wasnt even prescribed for him in the first place.

c) Tell the patient that if he has already touched the bottle the toxin inside has already leached through his skin and is right now eating at his brain.

d) Tell the patient to collect all the expired medications in his house, plus all the prescription drugs that havent been used in 6 months and bring them into the pharmacy. The pharmacist can help him decide which to discard. The pharmacy will also make sure the discarded meds are disposed of properly. Finally, if he is feeling ill perhaps he should see his family doctor to have his condition properly diagnosed.

I know that as my relief pharmacist want to keep this guy as a repeat, breathing customer, so you choose (D). Lets review why all you smart folks choose (D):

  • Medications expire. Most of the time, they just become less potent so they wont work as well. But, there are drugs like tetracycline that actually change into toxic substances when they expire.

  • When medications need to be destroyed they should be brought back to the pharmacy. It is no longer considered safe to flush them down the toilet. Also, if you throw them in the garbage, medications like iron pills are still potent enough to harm children and pets. Pharmacies will make sure they are safely disposed of, often by incineration. It is a good habit to check for unused medications in your house once a year.

  • The medicine cabinet in the bathroom is actually the worse place in the house to store medications. Medications degrade fastest in warm, moist environments. Medications should be stored in a dark, cool, dry, lockable cupboard. Also, dont put meds in the fridge unless the pharmacist specifically tells you to put them there.

  • A person should never, ever take prescriptions that werent prescribed to them. Medications that are helpful for one person could be poisonous to another. Also, there shouldnt really be left-over medication in the house. Antibiotics should be completely finished when prescribed unless there are side effects and the doctor tells you to stop. And in that case you should drop off the unused medications at the pharmacy for disposal. Keeping them around just in case is a recipe for a poisoning in your house.

Im back from my submarine trip. Thanks for filling in for me at the pharmacy. The hot racking wasnt too bad. You know what, though? I had a lay-over in London on my way back. It seems three Holiday Inns in the UK now have a bed warming service. And this isnt the hot water bottle thing of 40 years ago. You can call the hotel and tell them what time you will arrive and request a bed warmer. Before your get there, a hotel staffer gets into full body fleecy footy jammies and gets into your bed. They stay there until your bed is up to 20 C and they get out before your arrive. If that hotel staffer accidentally fell asleep, do you think Shugoon would be more upset by an animal or a person in his bed?

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.


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