Ask Your Pharmacist!

My first date with Diego was memorable for many reasons.

I’ll never forget the atmosphere of the classy establishment that he brought me to, the fact that I sang to him all the elements of the periodic table (sophomore year chemistry actually came in handy in my real life!), or one of the questions he asked me the first time we met:

It went a little something like this:

Him: “So, do you take any drugs?”

Me: (nervously) “Eh… no… why do you ask?!?”

Shortly thereafter I learned that my date had not asked me about my drug history because he was some pill poppin’ party animal (phew!) but because he was a pharmacist and wanted to see if he could help me obtain any medications I might take in the US here in Spain.

Why am I divulging this information to you, you ask?

Not to solicit dating advice – as you can see from the above examples both Diego and I struggle in that department 😉 (Perhaps that’s why we ended up together??)

But rather because I want to discuss how pharmacies and pharmacists function here  in Spain.

Over here they operate under a different system than ours in the United States (not a single Walgreen’s exists in the whole country, imagine that!) – and I think it’s worth the effort to examine what makes them unique and what we as Americans can learn from the Spaniards and their pharmaceutical system 🙂

There’s no better place to begin than by consulting the experts themselves!

These two hansom men happen to not only be pharmacists but also father and son!

Meet Diego’s father, Alvaro!

Diego and I visited his dad while he was working this weekend – which gave me an opportunity to ask him some questions about his job and his daily duties!

Before I begin with the summary of my mini interview with Alvaro, here’s a little bit of background information on pharmacies in Spain.

  • They are all privately owned.
  • Only pharmacies are legally allowed to sell medicine and medications. (You can’t buy aspirin, for example, at a gas station or a grocery store like you can in the United States).
  • The job duties of a pharmacist include not only selling products to the people, but also dispensing advice as to what type of medicine a person should take.
  • Pharmacies here typically only sell things related to health, hygiene, and medicine – you don’t go to a pharmacy to buy a magazine, gum, or Gatorade like at home.
  • You can’t buy any type of medicine – i.e. prescriptions or “over the counter” meds  unassisted (more on that below).

Here’s a shot of what Diego’s dad’s pharmacy looks like from the inside. As you can see, all the lotions, shampoos, sun screens, baby formula, ect. are located out in front for the people to look at and touch (like in the US) and the prescriptions and other medicines are kept behind the counter.

"Earnin' myself some brownie points by helping the Pops!"

That’s Diego in the back room grabbing someone’s prescription from a big file cabinet – pretty sweet organization they’ve got there, eh?

Now back to my chat with Alvaro….

According to Papa Diego, the most common thing people buy at his pharmacy are medicines for pain, tranquilizers (for anxiety),  and medicines for hypertension.

When asked what type of “advice” people most commonly ask him, Alvaro responded by saying that most people want to know about the interactions medicines can have with one another.

He also said that that parents are very concerned about anything involving their children. Therefore, the majority of the questions people ask him have to do with finding the best remedy for an ill child.

A few rides on the rocking-horse should cure her! 😉

Seriously though folks, I think it’s great that in Spain people actually ask their pharmacist for advice! And I love that the pharmacists are so “hands on” with the customers. Like I mentioned before, no types of medicine (not even aspirin or cough drops) are out in the front for people to grab and buy – you literally have to ask a pharmacist to get it for you – and more than likely he or she will also advise you on how much of it to take and for how long.

This idea of getting professional assistance when choosing over the counter medicine is dear to my heart because recently my dad had a scary experience involving mixing the wrong types of medicines!

About 2 years ago, my dad was taking a decongestant for a nagging cold combined with a few other prescription drugs. As it turned out, the mixture of things he was taking was a toxic combination – over time the pills ate a hole in his stomach and he developed internal bleeding and needed to be hospitalized!

My dad is okay now, but I know that if he were in Spain his pharmacist would have advised him against taking the decongestant with his other prescriptions!

I think too often in the US we “self medicate” ourselves without seeking professional advice – and as you can see in the case of my father – this could end up being dangerous!

To conclude, I want to say that next time you are picking out some medicine (or even vitamins) at Walgreens or Walmart or whatever pharmacy you’re in – think like a Spaniard and consult a pharmacist’s opinion! That’s why they get paid the big bucks and they know 100X more than you about medicine!

"There's a reason I deserve to put my name on the door!" 🙂


6 thoughts on “Ask Your Pharmacist!

  1. What a nice facility! I like the Ikea lamp:D I think that is how we should run things here as well, seems to be the obvious safer choice. Question, do you have to be a certain age to buy certain drugs? I know recently here you have to be 18 to purchase certain cough medicine since some Joe’s think its a good idea to get high from it. Why you would drink cough medicine for fun is beyond me, it tastes horrible!

    • 1) The Syrup is nasty. I still feel great hate towards it! 😉
      2) I don’t think you have to be a certain age to buy things – in fact the legal drinking age in this state is 16, crazy right?!
      3) Diego’s date just remodeled the pharmacy so that sweet lamp is brand new, I’ll have to tell him that you like it!!!

  2. This was an awesome article. I am totally against the idea of “self medication”. No matter what their IQ, people in the US seem to think that if one pill might work, multiple amounts must work better and faster. Spanish style pharmacies would also encourage those folks with limited insurance to get their proper medications and questions answered without having to rely on hospital medicaid to cover a less serious medical problem.
    If possible, please forward your blog to as many people as possible!

  3. Alright, kind of scary: I was just about to post a comment on your blog, but I guess someone already beat me too it? I do agree with everything “I’ve” said, but I’m curious if Mom, Dad, or David posted accidently, under my Facebook login, to your post… pues, no lo preocupado. What else I wanted to mention was that I loved the picture of Diego and his dad. I wonder how D is so tall, considering that his dad is shorter than him? And of course, the picture of Diego grabbing the meds, and “helpin’ his pops” quote was hilarious. Did he really us those English phrases??

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