Senior Beat

Avoid risky practices when picking up medication

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

I was sick recently. Not a big deal, but I needed a prescription. While I was waiting at the pharmacy, an elderly woman, who was clearly hard of hearing given the volume in which she spoke, requested her medicine by name from the pharmacist.

I audibly gasped at the mention of the medication and quickly scanned the aisles for any would-be thieves who may have also overheard. Fortunately, the coast was clear, because I wasn’t feeling up to following her out the door, lest she be accosted. Safety in numbers as they say.

I am sure the woman didn’t think anything of it. The pharmacist seemed to, however, as she leaned as far over the counter as could trying to get closer to the woman in an attempt to soften the loud conversation.

Announcing your medication at the pharmacy counter is dangerous practice. Think about if you go to the bank and withdraw money. We have all been conditioned to speak softly, as it is potentially dangerous to request cash in a loud voice, lest some unsavory character with ill intentions overhears the conversation and forcibly relieve us of our money in the parking lot.

But, time and again, I hear people ask the pharmacist for prescriptions by name. For example, do you say, “I’m John Smith. I’m here to pick up my (insert pill name here.)” If your answer is yes, you may get a rude awakening in the parking lot someday.

Law enforcement will eagerly warn you about disclosing what medication is being picked up at the pharmacy window. Drugs are as valuable as money. There have been a few cases reported where an unsuspecting elderly person leaves the counter, prescription in hand, only to be mugged outside. Or maybe followed home.

Addicts will stop at nothing to get the drugs they want, so protect yourself and don’t be a victim. It’s unnecessary to reveal the brand or type of medication that you are picking up because the pharmacist would already have that information as he or she filled the prescription for you. All you need to announce is your name.

Should you have questions about your medication, scan your area first to make sure no one is within ear shot. Ask the pharmacist if there is a place where you could speak privately and if not, use the lowest voice possible.

And never chat with other people in line about “what you’re in for,” or compare conditions or treatments, tempting though it may be as a way to pass the time. My sweet, friendly mother is always telling me of the fascinating conversations she has with people in line. But, again, you never know who is listening and could, at that moment, be making a plan to follow you out the door.

Have the pharmacist put your medications in a regular shopping bag not one of those little prescription bags which are a dead giveaway that you have just purchased drugs. Ladies, this is a good excuse to buy a pretty new, large purse or tote bag. Consider it necessary for medicinal purposes. You can put your medications right in there.

Now my intent is not to make you paranoid, although I am. It’s not so bad when you get used to it, but rather to make you more aware of your surroundings. Especially if you are taking medications that are coveted on the street – although nowadays the addicts have become pretty resourceful and may want to steal anything they can get.

Remember the bank scenario? Just as you would not waltz out of a financial institution fanning yourself with crisp one hundred-dollar bills, you should never be cavalier with your medications.

So, watch your purse, your bank account, credit card and social security numbers, keep your medications close to the vest, don’t talk to telemarketers, and then rejoice in the fact that you may have outsmarted a thug.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at

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