Being treated like a suspicious character or drug seeker at the pharmacy
Recently, I wrote an article for migraine.com about a weird experience I had in the emergency room at a local hospital: I repeatedly told all the staff I didn’t want morphine, yet it was brought to my room in a vial three times in a row (and eventually I was billed for it even though I never took it). Rather than being treated like a drug-seeker in need of a high (which is how a lot of you tell me you’ve been treated), they practically foisted a serious narcotic drug on me despite my protestations.
This story should not suggest that I’ve never been treated like a suspicious character, however. About a decade ago, I had a prescription for Lortab, which my neurologist at the time always wanted me to have filled so I could use it as a rescue med.
It was during this time frame that I went to visit my parents in Florida, and I—of course—forgot my Lortab. I didn’t anticipate needing it, but I knew that I felt better just knowing it was on hand in case I used up all my Relpax for the week. My parents lived in Florida for well over a decade, and I don’t think there was one visit to their house where I didn’t end up getting a migraine at least one day, if not the entire trip. My suspicion has always been that the combination of long car travel (the drive took at least 9 hours), volatile Florida weather systems, and the release of stress (after all, I was usually in “relaxation” mode when visiting my parents’ house as a grownup) is what led to my repeated migraine attacks during my trips to visit.
You can see why I wanted to have my full migraine treatment arsenal at the ready just in case my triptans were used twice in a week and I had to come up with a backup plan to manage the pain and discomfort.
The pharmacist at the chain grocery store pharmacy could not have improved her side-eye game if she tried: her looks of suspicion were reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon villain. I can’t remember how the pharmacy got the prescription, but whatever legal hoops had to be jumped through were jumped through. Once my hometown pharmacy was called to confirm the existence of not only my prescription but of me, the pharmacist in Florida then called my primary care doctor and my neurologist. I tried to be patient. I understood that opioid abuse is a serious problem and that doctors and pharmacists are hit up by drug seekers more frequently than I can imagine.
But even after the calls were made, the checkboxes were ticked, and the medication was approved, the pharmacist audibly whispered to her assistant. “I guess we’ll have to just take a risk on this, but something doesn’t feel right.” Okay. Fine. You think I am shady. You have a right to privately talk with your coworkers at the pharmacy about your reservations giving me these drugs, but really? Right in front of me so I could hear your every word?
The pharmacist finally handed over the bottle of just six Lortab pills (I had told her I’d be fine with just four instead of the usual twenty in a bottle, trying to keep my voice steady and act like a regular person and not an addled drug addict, whatever that behavior might be). As I was bending down to sign the form indicating I was picking up the prescription, she muttered, “I don’t guess we’ll see you here ever again…”
There are many ways to interpret her strange farewell comment, but I have always guessed she thought I was getting away with my feat of acquiring drugs to get high. Maybe she felt bad about how she’d acted and this comment was the equivalent of tucking her tail between her legs, saying she was sure this experience wasn’t a ringing endorsement of the business where she worked, so why would I be back? Maybe she simply meant she knew I lived in Georgia, not Florida, so wouldn’t have reason to visit again. Who knows? But it sure was the last straw for me.
Instead of speaking up to her and telling her directly how belittled I felt and how frustrating it is to have to jump through eighteen hoops when one truly is a chronic pain sufferer, my eyes welled with tears and I just walked out. If I could’ve kept myself composed, what would I have said?
I suppose my problem is with a lot of people and with a system that is designed to protect patients and caregivers but ends up alienating patients who have a real need for certain prescriptions. I hate how I blush and feel shame when I advocate for care that will help me cope with my illnesses.
What’s your take on this? Have you found a good way to advocate for yourself in a situation where healthcare professionals were suspicious of your motives? Do you have any ideas for how we can gain more confidence in asking for the treatments we think will help?
How much has your migraine disease changed or evolved over time?