Questions to ask pharmacist when prescribed painkillers

In 2014, about 2 million people either abused or became dependent on prescription drugs. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of the blame is put on doctors for over-prescribing pain medication, but patients should also be proactive when getting a new medication.

After getting a prescription from the doctor’s office, the next stop is usually the pharmacy to pick it up, but when picking up a powerful painkiller there are some questions you should be asking your pharmacist.

“The more the patient can be informed about the medicines they are putting in their body, the better off they will be,” said Rachel Arfstrom, a pharmacist at Cass Street Pharmacy.

Each prescription comes with a label that describes the strength of the pill and the directions for how it should be taken, but even those can be unclear sometimes.

“If the directions say take one or two pills at a time, when do you take one, when do you take two?” said Arfstrom.

Patients should also ask about what they should expect from the medication.

“I think a lot of us have this notion that if we get pain medication, you should have no pain at the end of it, but that is just not the case with these medicines,” said Arfstrom.

Arfstrom said in most cases, people shouldn’t expect zero pain when taking painkillers. For short-term pain, like post-surgery, Arfstrom said you can expect pretty good results, but when it comes to chronic pain, the medication will usually decrease the level of pain by about 30 percent.

“If you are ranking your pain on a scale of one to ten and you were at a six before, if we get you down to a three or four, that medication did its job. We don’t expect you to get zero for most cases,” said Arfstrom.

Finally, if a patient has a family history of addiction, the patient should ask their doctor if this is the right kind of medication and if there is a lower dose that can be used.

“To avoid the risk of dependency, being on the lowest dose for the least amount of time you need the medicine is the best bet,” said Arfstrom.

By law, when picking up a new medication in Wisconsin, the pharmacist is required to talk to you about it, so Arfstrom said you should take advantage of that time because they are only there to help.

“Pharmacists are going to be happy to answer your questions. We want you to get the best use out of your medicine and to be using it as safely as possible,” said Arfstrom.

Pharmacies also have some safe-guards in place to help patients use the pills safely. The pharmacist can see when a prescription was last filled and what other pills are being used. That way they can keep an eye on the number of refills allowed, if they are filled in the right time frame and how they interact with other medication.

If you have any medication left-over, the best thing to do is just get rid of it at a local drop box so there is no temptation.