When you pick up your prescription take the time to ask questions about your medication. Specifically ask, “What is this drug and how do I take it? Why am I taking it? What are possible side effects?” Your pharmacist has spent more time studying drugs than even your doctor has. This is your opportunity to talk to the expert and make sure you understand what you are taking and that you are taking it correctly.

Over 90 percent of patients nationwide don’t ask questions about how to use their medications and half of prescriptions are used incorrectly. Here are some suggestions on the questions to ask about your order from the pharmacy. We have also included a few tips to help you navigate within the pharmacy world.

What is the name of the medication, and what is it supposed to do?

You should know the names and intended use of all your medications. Because you may see more than one physician, you should always tell your doctors about other medications you are taking, including non-prescription drugs, herbal remedies, teas, dietary supplements, vitamins, and minerals. This will ensure that the medication you take — both prescription and non-prescription — is appropriate for your condition. If you are taking medicines for long-term conditions, it may be helpful to keep a list of all of your medicines, their dosages, and the reason you are taking them.

When and how do I take it?

Taking your medication correctly is very important so that it can give you the help you expect. Examples of questions you might ask are:

  • Should I take this medication on an empty stomach or with food?
  • How often should I take it?
  • Do I take it at the same time every day?

How long should I take it?

Serious problems may result from not taking all your medication or by continuing medications too long. It is very important that some medications, such as antibiotics, be taken for the prescribed length of time. Patients must not stop taking medicines before the time period prescribed because they feel better.

Some medicines may need to be stopped by lowering the dose a little at a time. It is done to avoid side effects that can occur if you stop taking the drug all at once.

Does this medication contain anything that can cause an allergic reaction?

If you always use the same pharmacy, the pharmacist will become more familiar with your medical history and can help you avoid allergic reactions to the drug or to inactive ingredients in your medications. Also, please let the pharmacist know if other people in your family have had severe allergic reactions to certain medicines.

Should I avoid alcohol or any foods?

Some medicines are known to interact with alcohol or food, resulting in an increased or decreased effect of the drug. Before taking any new medicine, always ask your pharmacist if it will interact with alcohol or food.

Can I take non-prescription drugs, herbal medicines, or other drugs with this medicine?

Many non-prescription drugs can interact with prescription medication. At times, the interactions can produce unwanted and even serious side effects. Although often thought of as “natural,” several herbal products contain ingredients that can also cause significant interactions with prescription medication. Never begin taking a new medication — prescription, non-prescription, or herbal — without asking your pharmacist if it will interact with your other medicines. It is important to tell your doctor about other drugs or herbals you are taking before he or she plans a new treatment for you.

Should I expect any side effects?

All medicines can cause side effects, but they are not necessarily serious. Your pharmacist and physician can help you understand these side effects and help you deal with them. If you experience unexplained side effects, contact your physician or pharmacist.

What if I forget to take my medication or take a dose incorrectly?

Try to follow the directions as closely as possible. If you think you might have trouble with this, ask your pharmacist about special boxes and other devices to help you remember.

If you realize that you may have taken a dose incorrectly, notify your physician or pharmacist immediately.

Is it safe to become pregnant or breast-feed while taking this medication?

Women should consider the possible side effects of medications when planning a pregnancy, during pregnancy, or when nursing a baby. Most drugs cause no problems, but others can cause birth defects when the mother takes them early in pregnancy. Therefore, expectant mothers should ask their pharmacist or physician before using any prescription, or non-prescription, or herbal medications.

How should I dispose of used needles and syringes?

Keep used needles in a closed box so that no one gets stuck with them. Containers made for the disposal of used needles can be purchased at your local pharmacy or online.

How should I store my medications, and how long can I keep them?

Medicines may lose their effectiveness if you don’t store them correctly. The medicine cabinet in the bathroom is not a good place to keep medications because of the moisture and heat. Don’t store medicines on the bottom shelf of any cabinet that has under-the-cabinet lighting. The light is a source of heat, which can damage medicines. Select a cool, dry area for storage of your medicines. Make sure they are stored safely away from young children.

Some medicines will have special storage requirements, such as refrigeration. Always check all of the labels on the medicine bottle or package for these instructions. You should get rid of any medication that has expired, or you are no longer taking. Flush pills and liquids down the toilet. For prescription drugs, the expiration date may be listed on the prescription label or another label. For non-prescription or herbal medications, the expiration date may be found on the container or package. Ask your pharmacist about the proper storage and the expiration date of all of your medications.

If the medication is over the counter, is it safe?

An over-the-counter version of your medication might do the trick however, it might cause interactions with medications you already take. Also, you might have to take more of it and forgo insurance reimbursement.

The more we know you as a patient, the more we can help you. If you are taking over the counter medications or have allergies to some medications let us know so we ensure there are no interactions with the prescription medications you take. Also, we can help tailor your medications to fit your needs. If you take a medication three times a day and you often forget, we can talk to your provider about alternatives. This is why we always suggest using one pharmacy so all your information is in one locations.

Are generics are close match for most brand names?

Most generic brands are copies of the brand name drug that they are prescribed to replace since the expensive brand name has lost its patent.   The cost of generics is much less since they don’t have to absorb any of the initial research and development costs and advertising expense. Generics are just a knock off of the successful brand name and are just copied and sold for much less but have the same medical efficiency or result. A brand-name drug and its generic counterpart are chemically the same. They may have different branding names, colors, and shapes, but they are required by U.S. law to be the same drug. However, it is best to be cautious with blood thinners and thyroid drugs, since small differences can have big effects.

Why are there issues with filling some prescriptions early?

Your insurance company has strict guidelines on when they will pay for your refills. With some medications such as painkillers, sleeping aids, or medications for anxiety and attentions disorders, there are federal and state restrictions on how early you can fill that override the insurance fill dates. This all has to do with patient safety. These types of medications have a high potential for harm or abuse when taken incorrectly. Having too many of those medications on hand can create a harmful situation. To avoid this harm, we like to limit an early refill of these medications to only a few days.

Why does my tablet look different than last time?

Sometimes our inventory changes based on what is available. You might be given a generic refill that’s different from the one you started with. We diligently try to send notice if any change of this nature occurs. If we have missed that, please call to double check.

How to avoid lines or busy times at the pharmacy?

It gets busy Monday and Tuesday, since many new prescriptions and refills come in after the weekend. Many times we have questions about new prescriptions or orders from the provider and if we can’t reach your doctor and/or insurance company to approve a refill, it takes more time for the process. Calling in an order later in the week is a better time. Also, try not to wait until the last minute for calling in a refill. See if your company has an automatic refill program in place or set reminders for you to fill a few days early to avoid any waiting.

How can you read the prescribers handwriting?

Sometimes we can’t read the doctor’s handwriting which means another call to the office. This can also take time and potentially days for them to return a call.

Why does the medication cost so much? Who decides that price?

Medications are expensive, even with health insurance. But unlike typical retail stores that choose how much to markup products, pharmacies have no say in what they charge. A tablet that used to cost $1 can cost $20 without much notice.