The other day I was in line at a local pharmacy because I had been researching the internet for gluten-free aspirin without getting very good answers. I needed to talk to a pharmacist. I don’t tolerate most drugs whether over-the-counter or not. I, in fact, don’t tolerate most dietary supplements. Even stuff that is considered and experienced as extremely benign (and rightly so) by most people can affect me quite negatively. This is common among those with the sort of iatrogenic injury psych drug withdrawal often causes. So when I look into any sort of supplement, drug or even a new food I need to be very careful, do a lot of research and then still very cautiously trial tiny doses to find the appropriate amount for me, which is pretty much always much lower than the recommended usual dose.
So, I wanted some aspirin and my research suggested I try my local (brand-name pharmacy) that was supposed to be gluten-free friendly and would be able to tell me how to find a gluten-free brand of aspirin. I’ve found when you’re dealing with national chains that these sorts of promises are meaningless. Pharmacists have not been terribly helpful in general when it comes to information about gluten in drugs or supplements. The ignorance about the issue is astounding. I wasn’t expecting much.
I got to the pharmacy and got in line behind the one other person there. He was asking about generic drugs. He told the pharmacist he had been taking the pills in his last refill and they didn’t feel right so he had checked the bottle and noticed he’d been given a generic in place of his usual brand name blood pressure medicine. He asked the pharmacist, could it be that it’s not the same? The pharmacist immediately, without even a moment’s hesitation, told the customer that generics were just the same as the brand name. I initially bit my tongue, but he went on and on uttering complete B.S. about the wonders of generic drugs. I had to say something.
So I did.
“Actually,” I said, “there are quite a few well-documented cases of generics being inferior to brand name drugs. I imagine you know what happened with Wellbutrin? That was a nightmare. And you can’t say that generics are exactly the same as brand name drugs because they generally have different inactive ingredients. Some inactive ingredients can change the way a drug is absorbed in the body for some people. Also generics aren’t even required (by the FDA) to have the exact same amount of the active drug and there is some variability that can happen and that leaves folks who are very sensitive to dosage at risk for reacting differently to a generic as well.”
Yes, I managed to spit that all out in one fell-swoop.
You can imagine the dirty look the pharmacist cast upon me at that point. Oh, yeah, very nasty look. The customer looked at me and smiled (actually really beamed at me), but was polite and continued talking to the pharmacist. I knew, at that point, that I could not stay in that line and go back to being silent. Nor could I now hope that the pharmacist might want to help me with my gluten-free aspirin hunt.
I’ve been in pharmacies before dealing with gluten issues and they are woefully misinformed and unclear about such things and they tend to get impatient or simply give up trying to help me. Pretty crazy given celiac disease and gluten intolerance is very common, they really should know how to keep their customers safe, but they often don’t. In any case, he was already impatient with me.
I decided it was a lost cause to be in that pharmacy and so I left. I was kind of laughing at myself at that point. I felt I’d done my duty at the expense of accomplishing the errand I’d set out to do for myself. I wasn’t going to get aspirin there on that day, but I helped a man think about things that might actually allow him to make a more informed choice in the future.
I ended up going to a health food store and finding White Willow Bark which is the plant that aspirin is inspired by. Aspirin is a synthesized version of salicin one of the active elements in Willow Bark. And so Willow Bark works pretty much just like aspirin but doesn’t have as many of the gastrointestinal issues associated with aspirin because it’s a whole plant/food/medicine. It also seems to have other benefits, also because it’s a whole plant/food/medicine and not just the salicin stripped from the plant. So I feel like I came out seriously ahead of the game with a much better alternative to the aspirin which has all sorts of chemical additives which would have put me at additional risk of an adverse reaction. And I came out ahead because I spoke up and helped educate some guy who was having an issue with a drug that the pharmacist was pretending couldn’t possibly be. I enjoyed that.
FYI on Willow Bark: if you are allergic to aspirin or prone to any of aspirins potential adverse reactions or if you have a sensitivity to salicylates you should not take Willow Bark. Also, for anyone withdrawing from psych drugs, please be careful before introducing any supplements at all as reactions are very common.