Using Your Pharmacy Wisely

By Ivan Suzman

Any person with Parkinson's disease (PD) who goes out to fill a prescription will agree with me that "the times they are a changin'." The traditional corner drugstore, with its bespectacled pharmacist, for so long a main street fixture in every town or village in America, has become a rarity. In its place, more likely, is the large, impersonal branch store of a national chain, with a pharmacy section buried behind aisles laden with groceries, auto parts, clothing and more.

Then there is the huge and growing Internet marketplace, wherein the computer-savvy person with PD can shop and order medications directly from home. And of course, there are the mail-order programs, featuring toll-free numbers, discounts and, again, the advantage of cutting out trips to the pharmacy.

Finding a Knowledgeable Pharmacist
A good pharmacist will have an up-to-date knowledge not only of the pharmaceutical market, but also of medications for specific conditions, including Parkinson's. To determine whether a particular pharmacist is the one for you, ask about his or her familiarity with anti-Parkinson's medicines. A good pharmacist should have information not only about Sinemet®, but also about some of the less common drugs, the generic alternatives and the various strengths of medications that are available.

In addition to being well-versed in the above topics, your pharmacist should be able to describe any possible side-effects of your medications and potential interactions with other medications that you may be taking. Some of these interactions could actually be dangerous. They can occur not only when several prescription medications are mixed, but also when a prescription medication is mixed with some over-the-counter medicines, certain foods, throat lozenges, cough syrups and tablets and even chewing gum! Again, a good pharmacist should know about these things and be able to advise you accordingly.

While knowledge is of course a key factor in choosing a pharmacist, it is also important to make sure that he or she is available to you. This can be essential when you need your prescription at a busy time, such as mid-morning on a Saturday.

Convenience is Key
When you find yourself weighing the pros and cons of the various options in the pharmacy world, consider what you can do to make the experience as trouble-free as possible. For example, to avoid waiting in long lines at the drugstore, make it a habit to call in an order for a refill three days in advance. This can also give you plenty of time to make alternative arrangements with a different pharmacy if your medications happen to be out of stock. If you do not mind automation, many drugstores these days feature a "rapid refill" option, which allows you to reorder by computer or by voicemail. Just read the prescription number from your bottle and follow the recorded voicemail directions or the directions listed on the pharmacy's website.

If you work during regular business hours, look for a 24-hour drugstore near you. Sometimes you can even find pharmacies with drive-through windows, providing you with the ultimate convenience of not having to leave the car. Also, if trips out of the house are becoming difficult, you may see if your health insurance policy allows you to order up to a three-month supply of pills at once, and to have them shipped to your address. Some pharmacies will even deliver your prescription to your residence at no cost if you are unable to leave the home.

For readers who are retired from or currently in the armed forces, your regional Veterans Administration Hospital may offer to mail your prescriptions at no extra cost to you.

Making Sure the Price is Right
As you are well aware, prices of medications can vary, even between pharmacies that are across the street from one another. Because of this, it is important to shop around. You can do this by simply checking with pharmacies, Internet and web outlets, and asking for price quotes on your medications. (Remember, you cannot inspect your Internet order before you pay for it.) Make sure to ask whether there are any promotions when you call; some companies offer a reduction to customers who are transferring a prescription from another pharmacy.

Lastly, if you have a limited income, you may be eligible to receive prescriptions at no cost - either through the drug companies (all of which have patient assistance programs for low-income folks) or through your state's department of human services. For more information on the various patient assistance programs offered by drug companies, contact PDF at (800) 457-6676.

Ivan Suzman has lived with young-onset Parkinson's disease for over 20 years.

Originally published in the Winter 2004-2005 issue of PDF News & Review.