Although I regularly use natural substances, I am also open to prescriptions for myself occasionally.  This is a story about a prescription I intended to use.

I purchased a topical prescription at one of the very common drugstores across America.

Some weeks later I opened it and noticed it was red.  I checked the ingredient label and noticed it had Red 40 in it.  I am allergic to red dye.

I have bought prescriptions from this drugstore in the past without issues, including one pill-based prescription which had a small amount of red dye in it.  However, when that was about to be filled, the pharmacist notified me of the red dye in the medication, because it was listed in drugstore’s system that I had a red dye allergy.  I still purchased the medication because, for some reason, I can tolerate some small medication pills with red dye.  However, whenever something has red dye in it, I expect the store to alert me.

I was not alerted to the red dye in the topical prescription.  So I went back to get a refund, and Amy (anonymous name) was on staff that day.  I told her I wanted a refund because the store knew I had a red dye allergy.  She said they couldn’t take it back because it was ‘filled correctly.’  I left with my prescription, but I thought about what she said over the next couple of days and disagreed.

I later discovered that although the red dye allergy was in the system, it is listed only as an internal allergy, and thus it was not flagged for topical applications.  That is an issue because no one has ever asked me if my red dye allergy was internal or external.  Thus, that is another argument for why this prescription was filled INcorrectly.  But after learning this, I requested that the red dye and seafood allergies both already in the store’s system be listed as internal and external allergies.

Amy tried to put more focus on the doctor.  Doctor offices do not ask if your allergy is internal or external or both, and a drugstore should never assume one or the other in their system, especially without asking me.  Furthermore, doctors are not always aware of what each medication is going to look like, and I have seen variations per pharmacy of the same medications.

Amy thought that due to me accepting a medication in the past that was red that my allergy was minor.  A pharmacist should NEVER assume that if I tolerate one substance containing an allergy that my reaction to anything with that same allergy is minor, and no decisions to wave anything should be made by a pharmacist with that type of assumption.  This is particularly important to note because I never told Amy that she could list the allergy in the system as ‘mild’ and/or ‘can be overlooked.’   I would have never accepted the topical prescription had I known how red it was.

I ended up contacting the corporate office and verbally told them what happened.  They then rerouted it back to Amy, who called me (which I did not agree with but decided to compromise).  After we spoke, I understood that the prescription could not be refunded because the refund window had passed (consider asking for the refund window when you go somewhere new.  At this company it is 7 days).  Amy also notified my doctor of the allergy and reported it to Patient Safety.  But the issues still stood as to why the refund was initially rejected by the pharmacist, because it wasn’t due to a lapse of the refund window (she did not even check that part during the first conversation).  Amy now knows the issues because I talked to her about them, but these are also things that I thought the drugstore needs to educate all of their pharmacists on.

Amy told me to make sure I notify my doctors of my allergies, but I can’t think of any time where I have not reported my red dye allergy on a patient intake form.

The day before I got on the phone with Amy, I thought to myself that I don’t always like when I can only verbally say what happened because I can’t know if it got translated thoroughly, especially because I did not receive a copy of the message.  I called corporate again to ask if I could put something in writing.  It turned out the incident number could no longer be found.  In any case this shows another issue with the company.  If the incident number cannot be found, then consider putting in place another marker for it to be found by (perhaps a password or question/answer created by the customer).

I then found another way to send all of my concerns listed in this article in writing to corporate. The response I got in return was as follows:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact ______.  I am happy to clarify our medication return policy. We are not able to take prescriptions as returns once the prescription has left the pharmacy as we cannot return items to stock, or utilize the prescription in any other way. We encourage you to have a dialogue with your prescribing physician about the cost of having to get multiple prescriptions while trying to find the correct therapy.  We appreciate your business and look forward to serving you again in the future.”

To this I responded: “Your response is not addressing the problems I presented.  You can take them back as damage and provide customers refunds for mistakes made by _______ (drugstore name).”

To this they responded: “Thank you for taking the time to contact ____ Pharmacy.  In order to request a refund for your product, we ask you to visit the store were your item was purchased. This has to be handled within the store at the store level to receive a refund. Please keep in mind that the refund is based off the store manager’s discretion and varies by location if the receipt is not provided. For information regarding the return policy, please visit the following link: __________.  We appreciate your business and look forward to serving you again in the future.”

To this I responded: “It’s not about the refund at this point because the time range for the refund is over [I had actually already accepted this part though I realize perhaps my first response mistakenly didn’t reflect that]. It’s about everything else I said. You are basically saying as a representative of ______(company) that _______ (company) is not willing to acknowledge its faults and where it can improve and/or that you are not willing to escalate this issue to people who can acknowledge and then make the improvements.”

I have been speaking about this whole story to a pharmacist friend of mine, who was in agreement with me.

I write all of this to say the following:

  • Check the ingredients on a prescription before you take it home
  • Have the drugstore list all your allergies as internal and external, unless that is not the case per each allergy.  If they do not ask you, consider writing corporate about this lack of communication and systematic assumption errors.
  • Determine the refund window prior to leaving the store
  • Know that even if a drugstore cannot re-utilize a drug, they can take it back as ‘damage’
  • Some drugstore companies let each individual store decide how they run things.  I went to another store underneath the same company and discovered that their policy was that if they make a mistake, they would take the drug back.  It is worth getting second opinions.
  • Companies make mistakes and just because they do not acknowledge or take responsibility for them does not make them right, or you wrong.  You can change pharmacies at any time.