Pharmacists remain among the most trusted professionals in America, just behind nurses and ahead of doctors, engineers, dentists and police officers. But even pharmacists make mistakes.
We recently received a letter from a reader: "Yesterday, I discovered that when my diabetes prescription was refilled, the druggist made a mistake and gave me something else. I didn't catch it at first because there was a note on the bottle saying that while the shape was different, it was the same prescription.
"My blood sugar numbers crept up, and I began to think there was a problem. I scrutinized the tablet, and instead of saying 1.5, it read 1.25. I went to the drugstore, and they confirmed that not only was it the wrong dosage, it was the wrong medication.
"Always check refills to make sure they are what they are supposed to be. Some pills can cause harm and even death to those who are not supposed to take them. I have no idea what drug I was given, but I'm glad that it caused me no problems except for uncontrolled blood sugar for several days."
Another reader averted a potentially serious problem by checking before she left the pharmacy: "My 11-year-old daughter takes Intuniv (guanfacine) for ADHD. When I picked up her prescription, I was given Invega (paliperidone) instead. This is an atypical antipsychotic used for the treatment of schizophrenia.
"Luckily I noticed before I even left the pharmacy. When I asked the tech, she said someone must have made a mistake entering it into the computer. She did it over and gave me the correct medicine.
"I don't understand why they didn't check her history and see that she takes Intuniv. I was told there is a many-step process before the prescription is released. So how did I get handed this incorrect medicine? Even more important, what could it have done to my 75-pound daughter?
"It is very scary. I switched drugstores and carefully check every pill that comes into my house."
Sometimes a mistake leads to tragedy. A pharmacist in Illinois dispensed the diabetes medicine glipizide instead of the gout drug allopurinol. The patient did not notice the error, and his blood sugar went dangerously low. He suffered serious consequences, including a stroke, and ultimately died. The family sued the drug chain, and a jury awarded $31 million in damages (Drug Topics, Nov. 6, 2006).
You can learn more about the many things that might go wrong at the drugstore in "Pharmacy Exposed" by Dennis Miller, RPh. We also provide a list of top-10 pharmacist errors and information on how to protect yourself in our book "Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them."
Here are some safety tactics to employ the next time you pick up a prescription:
Keep a copy of your prescription, and check the pill bottle you are given to make sure it agrees. Do this before you walk away from the cash register.
Ask your pharmacist how to take the medicine. Find out if it matters whether you take it with food or on an empty stomach, and whether there are any beverages such as grapefruit juice or coffee that are incompatible.
Review with the pharmacist all other drugs you take, including OTCs. Make sure you are not setting yourself up for a dangerous interaction.
v vQ: I am a registered nurse who works with frail elderly patients. When a caregiver told me about sugar to heal the constant skin tears we see, I thought she was nuts. But it worked far better than anything I have seen in 20 years of nursing. These people can have skin tears that never heal, cause them great pain and may become infected.
I have used sugar on my animals and myself with the same astounding results. Plain sugar washed off and reapplied daily works almost like magic.
Answer: We first learned about sugar for wound care from Richard Knutson, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon who published his findings in the Southern Medical Journal (November 1981).
Dr. Knutson has treated more than 7,000 patients with this approach. He now recommends powdered rather than granulated sugar and mixes it with cooking oil (a ratio of 3 parts sugar to 1 part oil). This forms a paste that goes under a dressing.
Q: I suffered for many years with recurring headaches. Medications produced awful side effects.
An amazing natural cure got rid of my headaches. I stirred 2 tablespoons organic apple cider, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 tablespoons honey into 8 ounces hot water and drank it daily. Within three days, my headaches lessened, and within a week they were gone.
Now if I feel a slight headache coming on, I drink the mixture, and within 15 minutes my headache disappears.
Answer: Thanks for this recipe. Other people have found that triggering "brain freeze" also may stop a headache. Here is a testimonial:
"I had a painful headache today. I drank two glasses of really cold water to get a brain-freeze effect. The pain was quickly reduced. I felt so good that instead of lying down because it hurt to even move, I vacuumed my apartment - something that would have been too painful to do just minutes earlier."
Q: I have been a Type 2 diabetic for 13 years and thought that using cinnamon on a daily basis would result in a lower blood-sugar reading. To date, cinnamon has had absolutely no effect on my condition.
Answer: The use of cinnamon for blood-sugar control remains controversial. It is not a substitute for medical supervision and appropriate medications.
Adding an indeterminate amount of cinnamon from the spice rack poses some challenges. For one thing, you don't know the daily dose, and for another, you don't know what cinnamon you are consuming.
There are two types of cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon from China is the type that was used in the original research showing that it could help lower blood sugar after a meal (Diabetes Care, December 2003). Other studies have shown that "true" cinnamon, also known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum or verum, has little or no impact.
Cinnamon supplements might be a way to get a safe and reliable dose. An analysis of six placebo-controlled studies found that cinnamon (in doses ranging from 1 to 6 grams/day) reduced HbA1c and blood sugar (Clinical Nutrition, October 2012).
Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers in their column. Email them at their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.