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Pharmacies and Legal Drugs

Pharmacies and “drug stores” take many forms, from small apothecaries to large chain drug stores that sell everything from aspirin to dog food. What they all have in common is that they have at least one section that dispenses “prescription drugs”–specifically ordered on a special form by a medical doctor. Nearly all pharmacies also sell “over-the-counter” medicines, which do not require a doctor’s prescription. A pharmacist, who graduates from pharmacy school and is licensed by the state, is responsible for filling the doctor’s prescription. In a small drug store the pharmacist might also be the owner.

A pharmacist is not supposed to practice medicine or give medical advice. In reality, for most common ailments, a pharmacist might be able to give excellent advice, and often does. As with most people you have to deal with frequently, it pays to make friends with your pharmacist.

Generic Drugs. When getting a prescription from your doctor, make sure the doctor allows for the use of “generic” drugs if possible, rather than an identical “brand-name” drug that might cost much more. Also, note that doctors are known to have horrible or illegible handwriting. It is rumored that they take special classes in medical school for this and that pharmacists take special classes in pharmacy school to learn to decipher the handwriting. If you tell the pharmacist what the drug is for, he or she will have a better chance of figuring out what the doctor wanted to write.

“Over-the-counter” remedies of every description–from headache capsules to hemorrhoid ointments to skin cream to antacids to cough medicines and cold pills–can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription in drug stores. Many of these preparations are advertised nationally. Often the drug store will have a “house brand” that is identical to the nationally-advertised brand but at a substantial discount. Take a look and compare ingredients and prices. Also note that many over-the-counter drugs can be ineffective–simply not worth the money. Look to magazines such as Consumer Reports, which periodically tests and rates such medicines, for guidance.

Abuse of Legal Drugs. Though not strictly illegal, both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications can be dangerous if misused. In 2011, the White House called abuse of (technically legal) prescription drugs for recreational purposes the most dangerous drug problem in the United States. Accidental overdoses of drugs such as Xanax, Klonipin, Oxycodone and Hydrocodone exceed those from heroin and crack cocaine. The problem is particularly severe among young people. Every 20 minutes, an American dies from an unintentional drug overdose. The popular phrase for this epidemic: pharmageddon.

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