So, you find yourself feeling poorly and make an appointment with your doctor. After the examination she decides to prescribe a drug for what ails you. She describes what the drug should do and answers your questions. Feeling satisfied, and with a prescription in hand, you leave the office. Halfway down the block, however, some doubts start to come to the surface: Did I ask all the right questions? Can I take the drug with grapefruit juice? How am I going to pay for it? You may feel the need for additional information.
You are not alone. One of the top types of questions we get at the Health Information Center are about prescription drugs. The questions tend to fall into two categories: Information about the drug itself (what it is for, what are the side effects, etc) and information about price. Luckily there are several good resources available to help you. The first and most important resources to use are your doctor and pharmacist. Consumer Reports on Health has a good summary of topics to discuss with your doctor about prescription drugs, and the FDA has a web page concerning questions to ask your pharmacist about your prescription.
If you want to find out information about the prescription drug itself (how to take, possible side effects, etc.) there are many options for you. A standard print directory of prescription drug information is the Physicians' Desk Reference often abbreviated as PDR. Since it is designed for doctors and pharmacists the PDR can be very technical, and sometimes it is hard to wade through the lengthy entries. There are other print directories of prescription drugs that you may want to consult if the PDR is not for you. Two popular books that try to summarize the more technical prescription drug information into more easily understood language are the Consumer Drug Reference and The Pill Book.
There are also some excellent database and web resources you might want to try. With your NYPL library card you can access the Gale database Health and Wellness Resource Center and Alternative Health Module which has prescription drug information that can be searched by the name of the drug or symptom. On the web, MedlinePlus has an extensive listing of prescription drugs with important information on drug interactions, side effects, and much more. New York Online Access to Health, better known as NOAH, has a good listing of other reliable drug information databases on the web that you may want to check out as well.
The cost of prescription drugs is another area of great concern and frustration. There are a few tools that can help. The New York State Department of Health has a useful website that tracks prescription drug prices in the state. You can search for a prescription drug within a specified area and the site will list the prices offered by pharmacies in that area. Not all drugs and pharmacies are listed but the number continues to grow.
If you are trying to find assistance for paying for prescription drugs, an excellent website to consult is the Health Information Tool for Empowerment abbreviated HITE which is maintained and updated by the Greater New York Hospital Association. HITE is an online directory of health and social services specifically for low-income, uninsured and under-insured New Yorkers and has a detailed listing of prescription drug assistance programs.
While the decisions aren't easy ones, being armed with good information is a great help.