Thursday, March 28, 2013

Talk To Your Pharmacist Before Self-Medicating

A few years ago, when I was working for a retail pharmacy chain, I noticed a nice couple checking out products in the vitamin section of the store. They seemed a little confused about the various choices, so I stepped out from behind the counter and asked if I could help them out.

The woman had a bottle of ferrous sulfate (iron) 65 mg tablets in her hand. She said that her doctor told her that she needed to supplement her diet with iron, and to take 325 mg three times daily until her next appointment. But, she also said that she found what she needed and didn't need my help, and began to walk away.

Sensing a serious error about to occur, I asked her how many tablets she was going to take each day? She turned around and told me 15 tablets - 5 tablets (325 mg) three times daily.

I can't tell you how relieved I was that I went out to talk with them.

Pharmacists know where I'm going with this, but many others may not. Sometimes the labeling on OTC (over-the-counter) and prescription products can be confusing. That's why, even when you don't think that you need to, YOU MUST TALK WITH YOUR PHARMACIST before self-medicating, and before taking any medications or supplements.

For the public, let me describe the potentially serious problem that was averted -

The doctor told the patient to take 325 mg of iron. But, what he actually meant was to take 325 mg of "ferrous sulfate", an iron supplement that contains 65 mg of "elemental" iron. The OTC bottle of iron that she had was labeled to show the amount of "elemental" iron per tablet. This nice lady thought she needed to take 5 X 65 mg in order to get 325 mg of "iron". If she hadn't talked to me beforehand, she would have taken FIVE TIMES the dose of iron that she was prescribed by the doctor.

Now, you may say to yourself, "that's no big deal, it's just a vitamin". But, that assumption would be a BIG MISTAKE. Iron is a very toxic supplement when overdosed, especially in children. Taking such a high dose of iron, and especially for a prolonged period of time, could have potentially been fatal. This couple thanked me profusely for my intervention.

So you see my friends, pharmacists ARE superheroes. We ARE able to use our powers for good, to save lives, and to make a difference in peoples' health care. But, maybe you've already heard of me.


  1. A King County Superior Court judge awarded $15.2 million Friday to the family of an 8-year-old girl who suffered devastating brain injuries after a communication breakdown between University of Washington doctors at Seattle Children’s led to a medication mistake.

    I'm not looking to blame anyone, nor make anyone out a villain, but here's a truly sad and tragic event that "perhaps" could have been prevented simply by discussing a recommended medication treatment with a pharmacist beforehand. We're here to help prevent these types of things. Please ask for our input.

    Read more at: UW must pay family $15M for error that left daughter disabled

  2. Pharmacists can help you with minor ailments such as coughs and colds, post-natal care, and pain management. They can also help you manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma. Tell your pharmacist exactly how you are using the medicine.