Cedars-Sinai Blog

Ask a Pharmacist: Cedars-Sinai's Rita Shane

When it comes to your healthcare experience, pharmacists are an essential part of keeping you healthy. We chatted with Cedars-Sinai's Chief Pharmacy Officer Rita Shane to answer some common questions about medication. 

What are some common mistakes you see from patients?

Rita Shane: The mistakes I see most often include:

  • Sharing medications with family members. 
  • Not having an accurate medication list. 
  • Getting doses mixed up or not dividing doses throughout the day. 
  • If a patient starts feeling better, sometimes they stop taking their medications, which can put themselves at risk. 
  • Using multiple pharmacies, which makes it harder for pharmacists to be aware of which medications you're taking and possible drug interactions.

What are some things you wish that patients knew?

RS: I wish more people would feel comfortable asking the pharmacist to explain things to them. We don't know what we don't know. When I take my car to the mechanic, I always ask, "Is there anything I don't know that I should be asking you?" 

I understand a drugstore environment is not always conducive to asking, but I would like more people to feel comfortable asking questions about their medication. Pharmacists welcome patient interaction.

What's the difference between a brand-name and generic prescription?

RS: A generic prescription is a chemically equivalent product to the brand prescription. They have the exact same effect and are equivalent to brand drugs. Both have to be FDA-approved to be available in the U.S.

Is it dangerous to take expired medication?

RS: It's not necessarily going to be harmful, but it's not recommended because drugs may lose their potency.

If I'm taking over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen on a long-term basis, is there anything I should be concerned about?

RS: Long-term use of any painkiller can be a concern. Just because a medication is sold over-the-counter doesn't mean that it's necessarily safe. For example, ibuprofen can increase blood pressure, cause heartburn or affect kidneys, so it's important to make sure it's right for you.

Another thing to consider is that taking pain meds consistently can lower your threshold for pain, ultimately meaning you may actually experience more pain. 

If I'm taking herbal supplements and vitamins, how do I know if there's an issue with the medications I'm prescribed? What about juices?

RS: This is a situation where I would recommend discussing your medication list with your pharmacist. There are definitely situations where some of these products can cause side effects such as bleeding, interfere with absorption of other drugs or have effects on how the drugs are eliminated from your system.

What's the difference between a drug intolerance and a drug allergy?

RS: Some drug reactions such as a nausea are most likely an intolerance and not a true allergy. Signs of an allergic reaction include developing a rash such as hives or shortness of breath. Tracking this information and sharing it with your doctors and pharmacist is extremely important.

What questions should I take to my pharmacist?

RS: I recommend bringing a list of relevant questions that may include the following:

  • Are there food, drinks, other medicines or activities that I should avoid while taking this medicine? 
  • Will this new medication work safely with other medications including over-the-counter medications I am taking?
  • Will any tests or monitoring be required while I am taking this medication?
  • Do I need to take all of the medication or should I stop when I feel better?
  • What are the possible side effects of the medicine? What should I do if they occur? 
  • What should I do if I accidentally take more than the recommended dose? 
  • How should I store this medication?

I found a cheaper prescription online or available in another country. Is it safe to buy?

RS: This is a global issue. One of the biggest concerns you're facing by buying drugs from other sources is the integrity of the drug. You can't ensure that you're getting a legitimate medication without additional ingredients that could be harmful. The drug itself may also be different or less potent than what is labeled. You want to make sure that you're only getting FDA-approved drugs.

Does taking an herbal medication mean that it's safe?

RS: No, herbal medications come from a variety of sources and might have contaminants. These need to be discussed with a physician, especially if you are taking other drugs..

What's something you wish more people knew about pharmacists?

RS: Pharmacists have years of advanced training and receive a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. They have the most training amongst healthcare professionals when it comes to medication, and they have a lot of knowledge about drug interactions and how medications work.