Make Sure You Like Your Drug Purveyor

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In recent times, retailers’ competition to earn your pharmacy dollars has resulted in a weekly sweepstakes of savings: a gift card for switching your prescriptions to Target, cheap gas for bringing your new business to Giant Eagle. Consumer science proves that medicine works better when it comes with free crap.

But a new state law effective this week means it’s time to pick your favorite drug peddler and be prepared to stick with them. The Ohio State Board of Pharmacy declared that as of this coming Saturday, you may transfer any given prescription to a different pharmacy only once during the life of the prescription. If you’ve been running the Rite Aid to Walgreens to CVS coupon circuit, you are now officially out of luck.

Naturally, the move was made in the name of safety, according to the board’s executive director, William Winsley.

“The number of transfers that have been occurring as a result of this coupon stuff has drastically increased errors,” he says. “My issue with the coupons has always been that these are prescription drugs that can kill people, not cans of tomato juice.”

Then again, nobody’s counting the bodies. The state doesn’t require pharmacists to keep track of mistakes, so there is no way of knowing exactly how many have occurred as a result of pharmacy swapping.

But pharmacists have been concerned that they are making — or causing other pharmacists to make — mistakes because most incentive-based transfers are handled by pharmacists chatting on the phone. “It’s primarily voice-to-voice, and we have a lot of drugs that are sound-alikes,” says Winsley.

That’s how a month’s worth of lorazepam could end up tasting more like alprazolam, particularly if it’s uttered during a cleanup on Aisle 3.

As always, there is an exception to the rule: Prescriptions can be transferred among a particular retailer’s locations — say, from the Strongsville Giant Eagle to the Parma location — as often as you like. (Such transfers sidestep the deadly step of two pharmacists having a phone conversation.)

Just don’t expect any freebies for it.

Meanwhile, snowbirds and students heading out of town are advised to think hard about whether leaving town is worthwhile: You may transfer your prescription to the destination of your choice, but it won’t be coming back home with you until your doctor writes a new one. —-Maude L. Campbell

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