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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? 

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Crystalrz4
    4 years ago

    My story is a bit different, yet I have faced ridicule off and on for years over my prescriptions. However, there was the one pharmacist who used to make very loud, rude comments for all of the other patients to hear. This was in the main Kaiser Pharmacy in San Diego.
    After trying to reason with her, plus talking with the head of the San Diego Kaiser Pharmacies, (who after our chat saw no reason to doubt that I need the medication and said he’d have a talk with her), she still continued as before.
    I contacted the California Department of Corporations with a complaint against Kaiser Pharmacy and her. After meeting their guidelines, I received a Formal Letter of Complaint, to sign and send back to them if nothing changed.
    The very next time she started to give me grief, I took out the letter, I and my witnesses signed it, and I showed it to her saying, “When they come to investigate, you will be relieved of duty, this pharmacy will be closed, and they will conduct a full investigation. No telling how long that will take, but you will not be collecting a paycheck, and depending on their findings, you may lose your license.”
    She backed off, and stop being rude. She even tried to be a bit friendly. I still get angry looks and questions from doctors and nurses who aren’t familiar with my case. I generally, tell them to look it up in my chart and if they have any other problems, please fill free to talk with my prescribing doctor.
    I’ve gotten tired of being embarrassed and crying. I didn’t ask for these illnesses, but I do work very hard to survive them with as much dignity as possible. I will not let anyone make me feel like I don’t have a right to a life with less pain and as much normalcy as possible.

  • Bonny
    4 years ago

    I have definitely been through the kind of scrutiny mentioned and thought it was just me. It really hurts and rankles to be treated this way. I just wish people with this problem maybe worked at pharmacies, and maybe then it would change. In Kansas, you now have to go to your prescriber, get the prescription, and carry it to the pharmacy. I have yet to discern how this will discourage illicit use.

  • lerickson82
    4 years ago

    My story is a little different. I had to fill a Norco prescription 3 times in about a 5-6 week time span. On top of that, I also filled a prescription for cough med with Codeine. It was for a post cervical ablation procedure and then two weeks later, 2 fractured ribs from coughing when I had a either a bad cold and/or bronchitis. I had NO problem getting all that filled. It wasn’t until I had to get (non-narcotic) medicine for my migraines that it felt like that I had an issue. I take Treximet for my migraines, but I used to take DHE-45 injectable. Both work pretty well, but the DHE works better for the really bad ones. The problem with injectable DHE is that it’s really not convenient to take outside the home. I asked my headache dr if he would be willing to prescribe both, as long as I understood that I can’t take either within 24 hrs of each other. I guess it can raise bp dangerously high if you take both. He prescribed it for me. It was out of stock so the pharmacy said it would come in 2 days, but they also put a “cap” (basically put it on hold) on it because of the interaction between the two meds. They pretty much just wanted to know if I and my doctor understood (of course the doctor wrote “do not take within 24 hours of Treximet)”. Honestly, I didn’t mind the hold as I was sure they just wanted to make sure I understood. problem solved, right? Well, they never took it off hold, so then I had to answer their questions all over again, then I find out they forgot to order it. They found it at another pharmacy, but it was still on hold, so they didn’t fill it right away, and I had to answer THEIR questions too! maybe it was all an oversight and someone forgot to take it off hold, but it seems like ALL my problems at the pharmacy are with my migraine meds!

  • Shani
    4 years ago

    It’s only been a few months between really NEEDINg to go to Urgent Care for shots and fluids. More often then not aside from needing to wait, I have gotten a empathetic nurse and Dr. who looks up my chart and understands. On my last crisis the nurse was ok but the DR was almost cruel. Flicked the lights on made me wait a looong time and didn’t even want to give me my toradol and zofran. They don’t even have narcotics there(one of the things I try to avoid ). I mean it’s not like I can produce vomit by will, and I would not be there if I really didn’t need to be.It’s a struggle to have been able to get there. After not giving me fluids and having me wait well over 45min in room by myself before finally conceding . Withing about 5 min after she was like here are your discharge papers “bye”. Two weeks later I had a follow-up with my GP and reported my treatment. He was sympothetic but not much can be done attitude. I have also experienced the “seeking behavior” from the pharmacy after moving and changing. I had been with my one for over 10 years with little issues. Upon moving (same chain) got the “looks and delays” even asked “Do really take ALL these for your condition”?. My answers are usually a nice yes. BUT on this day I was frustrated and said”Yes, do you treat all your clients with such distain”? I’m not sure they even knew what that meant but I know my attitude was clear.

  • pblask
    4 years ago

    It’s horror stories like this that make me avoid the ER at all costs. The few times I have gone in, I’ve been treated like I am drug seeking and faking the pain.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Patti –
    We are so sorry to read that you too have experienced this. It’s so terribly frustrating to hear. I thought I would share some information with you which provides some tips and recommendations should you ever encounter having to visit the ER again (hope not the case). https://migraine.com/blog/tips-and-tricks-for-a-successful-emergency-department-visit/. Thanks for being part of our community & joining in on the important conversation! Take care, Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • Katwoman
    4 years ago

    I can relate to your situation with that pharmacist. I have had chronic migraines for over 15 years now, average about 20 a month. I had one actually refuse to fill my monthly prescription of Lortab because I requested it one day early. I was leaving town for the week and wanted to fill it so I could take it with me. We were leaving the next morning and had to change our departure time so that I could go to the pharmacy and fill it on the correct day. How was I to know he’d be working back-to-back shifts? He again refused to fill the prescription, saying that I was always requesting the Lortab early (even though I had only done it the one time, one day early). He refused to fill it until the next week, after speaking to my primary care doctor who had prescribed the Lortab for me. Can you believe that?! I had to do without the Lortab for a whole week. I was completely useless the whole time I was on vacation because I didn’t have the Lortab. I was pretty much a migraine zombie the whole week. Even now when it’s time to refill my Lortab I get the “Evil Eye” from that pharmacist. He happens to be the Head Pharmacist. I don’t have this problem with the other pharmacists in that store, but I still feel guilty every time I go in there. Guilty for what? Having chronic migraines.

  • Erin
    4 years ago

    That is absolutely unacceptable. One day early? A pharmacist is not your moral judge. Your doctor wrote you that prescription, which means that doctor believes you need and deserve your medication. Please try not to feel guilty, you’re not doing anything wrong. I’m sorry you have to go through that. I’ve lucked out on my pharmacy,they have known me most of my life, and never treat me that way. I’m wishing you get better treatment.

  • leslied
    4 years ago

    i think it goes to most persons who have never had migraines are truly skeptical about the pain we suffer, I had to file a lawsuit against our local YMCA with the dept of justice here in the states for discrimination because they refused to change their cleaning products- they constantly mopped dressing rooms with a heavily perfumed cleaner . Pharmacists seem to be some of the worst cuprits.

  • hemi
    4 years ago

    I will not use a pharmacy that doesn’t treat me with respect and kindness. I would rather drive miles out of my way to avoid being treated like a criminal. I will also pay cash to avoid problems with a insurance. I am very grateful to now have meds I can use at home, but in my younger days I would go to the ER maybe three or four times a year when I could not stop vomiting and the pain was too much. I hated it, I was treated very badly many times. I remember losing consciousness and waking up to hear the staff making fun of me. I never knew if I would have an understanding dr. Or a cruel one. Honestly, Every day I thank my lucky stars I no longer have to go through that, and if any pharmacist gives me a hint of attitude I am gone.

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