My seventy plus year old grandaunt was on vacation in New Jersey from Florida when she went to a pharmacist to refill a prescription for Synthroid – a thyroid medication. The label on her prescription specified that she was to take one tablet of Synthroid per day, but it did not indicate the strength of the dose. As a result, the pharmacist would not refill the prescription at first. However, my grandaunt insisted she was taking the “pink pill” and the pharmacist gave in and give her a one-month supply of the drug.
Within less than a month, my grandaunt was in the hospital. She was suffering from weight loss, loss of appetite, tremors, and rapid heartbeat. The tablet she was supposed to be taking was actually orange in color; the “pink pills” the pharmacist gave her were ten times the dosage her doctor had prescribed. My grandaunt’s response was simply, “I guess I am just not good with colors.”
This is an example of how a prescription drug may be misused. To avoid such consequences, you should know as much as possible about any prescription drug you are taking.
Basic Facts You Should Know
1. The name(s) of the drug. Many drugs go by several names. Librium, for instance is also known by the brand name Lasix and by its generic name, furosemide.
2. The reason you are taking the drug. This is especially important with a “silent” disease such as high blood pressure, which people often do not realize they have. At first, the medication for this problem may make patients feel worse, and unless they know why they are taking the drug, they may stop using it.
3. How you should take the drug. Drugs can come in the form of pills, liquids, or other forms. They can be swallowed, injected, inhaled, or taken via some other route of administration. Should you take the drug before or after meals? If you are to take it orally, should you take it with or without water or other liquids? Many drugs need to be taken with water to dissolve them or dilute their strength. Aspirin should always be taken with milk to avoid stomach upset. On the other hand, some drugs such as tetracycline – a commonly prescribed antibiotic, should not be taken with milk or milk products.
4. The strength of the dose the physician has prescribed. My grandaunt’s near death experience highlights the importance of this information. Overdosing with a prescription drug can lead to serious side effects; underdosing may lead to the continuation of whatever ailment you are being treated for.
5. The frequency of administration that the physician recommends. If you take the correct dosage – but take it too often or not often enough – you may suffer an unpleasant reaction or a prolongation of your disease. Be sure the directions are clear. Instructions to “take four times per day” for instance, do not tell you whether you should take the drug every six hours around the clock, or at evenly spaced intervals over the time you are awake.
6. The length of time you should continue to take the drug. Generally, you should keep taking it until your supply is used up. Your doctor will then tell you whether or not to get the prescription refilled. It is a huge mistake to stop taking your medication as soon as you start feeling better. This is often true of antibiotics; if you stop taking them too soon, the infection is likely to recur. On the other hand, if you are concerned that the drug may be affecting you negatively, speak with your physician about possibly changing your medication instead of stopping the medication without your doctor’s knowledge.
7. Does taking the drug require any change in your diet or activities? A number of drugs are dangerous if you drink alcohol while taking them. Certain other drugs may also cause drowsiness or interfere with your coordination. If you are taking any such drugs you should avoid driving, working with dangerous machinery, or other hazardous activities.
8. What if you accidentally miss a dose? With some drugs that have a cumulative effect, missing a dose may lower the level of the drug in your body to the point where it does little good – yet it might be dangerous to double up the next dose.
9. What side effects can you expect? All drugs can cause side effects, ranging from trivial to serious. You should know whether to expect serious adverse effects, and how these effects can be treated.
To make sure that you know these essentials, you should review them with your doctor when he or she gives you the prescription. You should also be sure the pharmacist includes the relevant information on the label he or she prepares for you.
The Prescription Form:
A prescription is an authorization that a physician prepares so that a patient may purchase a certain drug from a licensed pharmacist. To be legal, a prescription must be written on a special prescription form in ink or indelible pencil. The following diagram is a depiction of what a typical prescription form contains:
1. The heading. This consists of: the doctor’s name, office address, telephone number, license (DEA) number; and your name, address, and the date the prescription was written. The doctor should include your full name so that other members of your family will be less likely to use your drug by accident.
2. The superscription. This is the well-known Rx symbol which stands for “recipe” or “Take thou” in Latin. It is an abbreviated form of a prayer that the ancient Romans offered to bless the remedy.
3. The inscription. This is the name of the drug. The doctor will list the drug by either its brand name or its generic name. You may ask your doctor to prescribe your drug in its generic name, as it may cost less than a specific brand. However, be mindful that there are cases in which the doctor will have a good reason for prescribing a specific brand.
4. The subscription. This contains the information that the pharmacist needs to prepare the prescription such as: what ingredients, how much to include, and whether the prescription can be refilled. The subscription is usually written in the form of Latin abbreviations. Some of this information may be translated into English when the pharmacist types up your prescription label. Some common Latin abbreviations and their translations are:
5. The signature. This is the part of the prescription that the pharmacist will type on the label that will be attached to your medication. Be sure that these instructions are clear and complete. For example, if the pharmacist has typed “Take as directed”, give it back and ask to have the doctor’s complete instructions typed in. It is extremely important to have all the instructions for taking the drug in writing so you can refer to them. Pay attention to any special instructions that may appear on the label; the particular medication may incongruous with certain food items.
6. The doctor’s signature If your doctor has not signed your prescription, it is not legal.
It is illegal to obtain a prescription drug without a valid prescription from a doctor. It is also illegal – and potentially dangerous, to share a prescription with another person unless the prescription specifically applies to more than one person.