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by Abigail Van Buren

Intern Speaks Out of Turn About Pharmacy Customers

DEAR ABBY: This letter is in response to "Angela in Savannah," the pharmacy intern who's disgusted with customers who are, in her opinion, abusing Medicaid and ignorant about using their medications correctly.

If she spends many years working with low-income people, as I have, she may discover that a little compassion goes a long way. I am a social worker in a medical setting, and I think Angela has jumped to some faulty conclusions.

What is wrong with our health-care system that a poor mother (who may not have money in her pocket for food, let alone cough syrup) can get expensive prescription cough syrup for free under Medicaid, but must pay $3.99 out of pocket for an over-the-counter equivalent? Narcotics have many legitimate uses. If a customer has a valid prescription for a narcotic, but no money to pay for it, should he be looked down upon for hoping he can pay with food stamps?

And as for Angela's statement that some people are so uneducated they don't know how to take the medicine, what the heck is the pharmacist there for? Those of us who are fortunate enough to be well educated are continually advised that, if there are questions regarding proper use of a medication, we should ask the pharmacist.

Have a heart, Angela; lose the attitude, and let's all try to help such people instead of condemning them. -- DEBBIE IN HIGHWOOD, ILL.

DEAR DEBBIE: You are not the only reader who disapproved of Angela's lack of compassion for the people she is serving. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: After reading the letter from the pharmacy intern in Savannah, I had to write.

On what basis is she deciding in her brief encounters with customers across the counter that they have preventable illnesses that could be cured by over-the-counter drugs? Most doctors would not be pleased to know she is diagnosing on limited information and experience.

If people are "uneducated" in taking medicines, a primary function of the pharmacist is to provide information, to educate. Most of the fine pharmacists I have dealt with value this aspect of their work.

Yes, there are 12-year-olds who get pregnant and who can't read. Should we have compassion or contempt for them? And what kind of "insider information" allows this intern to sort out the motives of those who apply for menial jobs at the pharmacy where she's working? Yes, there are some abusers of programs, and they should be found out and stopped by those qualified to do so.

I don't know what kind of life background this young intern had, but I would guess it was insular, and encouraged her to be judgmental and intolerant. She needs to seriously consider some other line of work that does not require her to serve people who are in painful and difficult situations. -- RETIRED MENTAL HEALTH WORKER

DEAR ABBY: The recent letter you published from the pharmacy intern, Angela, has me seeing RED!

While I agree that millions of people abuse the medical system in the United States, for many others it is the only way to get the medical attention they need. It's a disgrace that people must use overcrowded emergency rooms for mundane illnesses such as colds (have you ever had a sick child who is having trouble breathing?) just so Medicaid will pay for it. Has it ever occurred to you or Angela that these people have no other means for medical treatment? The $3.99 the cough syrup costs could mean the difference in whether the family eats or not!

Instead of whining about how people abuse the system, we need to work to make the system better. We all know it would be far less expensive to have Medicaid pay for the doctors' office visits instead of emergency rooms.

With her lack of compassion for the human race, I'm relieved that Angela decided to be a pharmacist instead of an M.D. -- BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, WASH.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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