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Pharmacy Refused Return of 28 Unused Tubes

This patient ended up with 28 tubes of steroid cream that he couldn't use. The pharmacy refused return of the sealed medicine. Was that fair?

Have you ever received a new prescription only to discover that you could not tolerate the drug. Perhaps it caused diarrhea or a horrible headache. You cannot return the bottle of pills for a refund. Even an unused, perfectly sealed tube may not be returned. This reader reports that the pharmacy refused return of 28 unopened tubes of steroid cream.

The NP and the Pharmacist Created Waste:

Q. My husband went to a new nurse practitioner because of a stubborn itchy rash that would not go away. He had tried oatmeal baths, baking soda baths, coconut oil and Aveeno cream. He changed soap and avoided foods he thought might be triggering the rash.

The NP prescribed a steroid cream (triamcinolone). When my husband finally picked up the prescription, it was a large bag. Inside were 30 15g tubes of the cream. The NP had prescribed 450 grams of the cream.

When he tried to return the unopened tubes, they wouldn’t take them back. The pharmacist explained that 450 grams usually comes in a “tub” and they didn’t have that; hence the 30 tubes.

This doesn’t make sense, as the rash is not all over his body. The NP told him at the visit to use the cream only as needed and only on the itchy spots. He is stuck with at least 28 unneeded tubes of this medication and doesn’t know what to do with them. 

Why wouldn’t the NP have offered him a sample to see if it worked on his undiagnosed rash? What are his options with the excess cream?

Why the Pharmacy Refused Return of Unopened Tubes:

A. Let’s get one thing straight. We are totally in favor of drug samples. That’s because you can never predict in advance whether someone will 1) get benefit from a medicine or 2) will suffer unacceptable side effects. That’s why a sample can go a long way towards saving people expensive drug bills for medicine they either cannot tolerate or benefit from.

In this case, a sample would have been totally appropriate and would not have led to wasted medicine. When a prescriber does not offer a sample, the patient can always ask the pharmacist to fill a few day’s worth of pills (or in your husband’s case, just one tube) so the patient can take the medicine for a test drive. If it works with no complications, the full prescription can be filled with confidence.

We suspect that most people just grab their bag of pills and never bother to look what they have until they get home. That’s too late. Pharmacies rarely, if ever, accept “returns” because they cannot resell pills or cream, even if in a sealed container. We fear your husband is stuck with unusable medicine.

Your pharmacy refused return of the steroid cream. Sometimes, though, a pharmacist will take back the problem prescription and throw it away just to keep a loyal customer.

What’s Causing the Rash?

It might be important to know what is causing your husband’s itchy rash. The steroid cream is a symptomatic treatment. A dermatologist might be in a better position to diagnose the underlying cause of his rash.

You may want to visit the website, www.SkinSight.com. The search engine enables people to view skin conditions that match their symptoms.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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