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Pharmacists answer your questions about medicines

Four members of the pharmacy team stand in front of the Redcliffe Hospital. Two are holding an award the team received.
Some of the Redcliffe Hospital pharmacy team

Do you have some burning questions for the guys and gals behind the pharmacy counter?

We collected many common questions from our social media channels and interviewed some super-helpful pharmacists from the Redcliffe Hospital Pharmacy to get them answered.

Pharmacists – also known as chemists - are health professionals that focus on the safe and effective use of medicines.

They have expertise in the composition, effects, mechanisms of action, metabolism, possible side effects, contra-indications, and interactions of medicines.

To be come a pharmacist, you usually do a four-year pharmacy degree and then an internship in a pharmacy. After the internship, you must sit and pass the Pharmacy Board’s registration exam. If you pass you can apply for general registration and become qualified to practice as a pharmacist in Australia.

We’ve asked some of the big ones for you, to solve some of the biggest prescription drug misconceptions that just don’t seem to go away, so let’s get started.

What's the question you always get asked?

Why does it take so long to stick a label on a box?

There are a few reasons, but it can take time to make sure we have the right patient, the right medication, the right dose and looking through the medication history to make sure there are no interactions or issues that could cause anyone any harm.

What's the one thing you want all Queenslanders to know about medicine?

Please remember to store your medications appropriately. Check the packaging for specific storage requirements, but generally a cool, dry cupboard below 25 degrees is your best bet.

Colds and flu

Why can't I get antibiotics for a cold or flu?

Colds are primarily caused by viruses. Antibiotics are effective only against bacteria, but not viruses.

Do cold and flu tablets cure colds and flus?

There is no cure for common colds or flus. Tablets help to relieve the symptoms associated with colds and flus such as nasal congestion.

Various types of medicines and some surgical masks spill out of a paper bag

Pills or liquids, doses, and how to take medicines

Why are some medications in pill form and others are liquids?

Some medications are made into liquids to make it easier for people to swallow them. Some medications may work better as liquids (e.g. antacids for reflux), where some may work better as tablets (e.g. slow-release pain medications designed to give longer coverage over the day).

If I'm feeling worse than usual, can I take a little more than the recommended dose?

No. Most medications have a maximum dose and this shouldn’t be exceeded. Exceeding the maximum recommended dose means you’re more likely to suffer side effects or serious complications.

Any tips on swallowing a pill? If I crush a tablet, will it work the same?

Some pills can be crushed, but not all of them, as some have special coatings, or are designed to last over a longer period of time (e.g. 24 hours). Always check with your pharmacist prior to crushing a pill.

Top tip: Some people find taking pills with yoghurt helpful!

Do generic medicines work the same as brand-name ones?

Yes. However, there are some medications where it is better to continue with the same brand, as they might not be exactly the same. Examples include some epilepsy medications, and blood thinners, where tight control is required. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you.

I think my family member has the same illness I just had - can I give them the rest of my medication?

No. Medications are prescribed specifically for specific patients. Everybody is different and everyone will react different. Even if you do have the same illness, your doctor may decide to use a different medication.

Can I stop taking antibiotics once I feel better?

Definitely not. You may feel better but the bacteria may still be present in your body. Also, if you don’t complete the course, the bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic, which will mean in the future the antibiotic won’t work for you or others. Unless advised by your doctor, you should always complete antibiotic courses.

Vitamins, natural and herbal remedies

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, more is better, right?

A well-balanced diet and exercise are the key to good health!

If it's natural, is it safer? For example: herbal remedies and vitamins

‘It’s natural’ does not mean it is safe to use! This is because some plant-based remedies may also have ‘drug-like’ properties.

Fun fact: Some conventional medicines (including anti-cancer drugs) are also derived from plants.

Why does my doctor or pharmacist need to know about the supplements I take?

Interactions are not uncommon between supplements and the medicines that are prescribed by your doctor. Please discuss use of any supplements (or complementary and alternative medicines) with your doctor or pharmacist.

What do you think is the most common misconception about pharmacy/medicine?

A common misconception is that if a medicine is natural it is safe. Natural medicines are often mistakenly thought of as safe because they are plant-based remedies, but many also have ‘synthetic drug’-like properties. They can still cause allergic reactions, side effects, or toxicities and can negatively interact with many conventional medicines.

You should only take a natural medicine under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner such as a doctor or a pharmacist. Remember that many of our conventional prescription drugs also are derived from plants too.

Two woman pharmacists in front of shelves stacked with medicines

A trip to the pharmacy

What's the difference between a compounding chemist and a pharmacy?

Along with operating as a regular pharmacy, a compounding pharmacy can make customised or personalised medications, or preparations that may not commercially available. This may include specialist creams and medication formulations that cannot be purchased “off the shelf”.

Not all pharmacies offer compounding services, so always call ahead to check.

Why am I asked for my personal details for certain over-the-counter medications?

Some medications are only available following a consultation with a pharmacist, for specified medical conditions or symptoms. These are known as ‘Pharmacist-Only Medications’ and the law in Queensland states it must be dispensed and recorded with the patient’s details.

Why am I asked whether I've taken the medication before?

It is helpful for us to know if the medicine you are getting is completely new to you or if it is something you are currently taking or have tried in the past. It is important we know how you have tolerated medications in the past (especially regarding side effects or reactions). Likewise, it is important that we give you all the important information you need for starting a new medication you have never tried. This question forms part of our assessment about whether a medication safe and appropriate for you.

What happens if I take medication that has passed its expiry date?

The expiration date is the final day that the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of a medication. After this date medications may not be safe or effective for the condition they are being used to treat. You should never take medicines after their expiry date.

What's the best part of your job?

I really enjoy talking patients through their medications. When you can connect with a patient it is great to help them understand the plan for taking it and the long term benefits for their health.

What if I have more questions?

Don’t be shy about asking your pharmacist. Pharmacists are more than happy to answer questions, as they know that this knowledge can make using medication more effective and safer, and just like many experts, they love to share what they know.

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Last updated: 15 March 2021