The 'embarrassing' things one buys at the pharmacy - (3/26/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Ms. Foster came into the pharmacy and whispered to the pharmacist something unintelligible. “Pardon me, Ms. Foster, but I couldn’t quite hear you,” he replied. After a couple more tries, the pharmacist finally understood that she was looking for tampons. He directed her to the correct aisle and noticed how mortified she looked. The reason for her embarrassment in asking for a feminine hygiene product was perplexing to him. Then he remembered how his own daughter acted when she first bought her own tampons at age 15. His daughter was fine alerting her mom to the fact that she had her first period. Yet, when it came to buying tampons from her dad at her dad’s own pharmacy, she was red-faced. 

Pharmacies carry all sorts of items that we would prefer the rest of the world did not know about. Take Mr. Green, 65, who recently started purchasing adult diapers for his urinary incontinence. In this scenario, Mr. Green would call the pharmacist and have him put aside a package of diapers, already bagged so that he could run in, pay, and run out before anyone notices. Approximately 13 million people in the US have urinary incontinence, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Older age increases the risk of this condition and, in fact, an entire industry is dedicated to stopping Americans from having urine run down their legs when they are at the hardware store or in church. 

Denture adhesives are another product that people can have difficulty buying. Mrs. Smith sends her teenage son to the pharmacy to pick up her denture cream so that others do not know she wears dentures. Although, most people know Mrs. Smith’s son and it is only a hop-skip-and-a-jump to revealing her dental affairs.

Bill needs the "little blue pill." It takes a secure man to go into a pharmacy with a prescription for an erectile dysfunction (ED) drug. The prescription announces that one is having trouble in the bedroom. Bill’s masculinity is intact. Yet, he does not want others to know of his plight. No matter that ED drugs are the most well-known pills in the galaxy, they are usually for other guys, not Bill.

Perhaps one of the most awkward items to ask for in a pharmacy is the morning-after pill. The customer is usually of college age, nervous, and feeling very vulnerable. She is ashamed of her poor judgment. What would her parents and friends think? Her entire future may be in the jeopardy if she does not receive the pill. 

Alas, the aforementioned patients received all of their items. What about those whose pride and/or mortification prevented them from following through with their hope of obtaining the product they need? Ms. Foster would not get her tampons. Mr. Green would have live with wet trousers. Mrs. Smith would be gumming her corn-on-the-cob. Bill’s ED might jeopardize his relationship. The gal needing Plan B might have to put college aside to care for a surprise baby. 

Know that the pharmacist is your friend. A pharmacist is not only trained to handle these situations, but also the experience gained from serving the public makes this professional unflappable when confronted with any sensitive situation. In addition, the law protects a patient’s privacy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – HIPAA – is a federal law that applies to healthcare workers. HIPAA requires that healthcare organizations develop policies to protect the privacy of patients. Heavy fines are imposed upon those who break this law. So fear not. Hold your head high, march into the store, and get what you need! 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Read more at


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