Service dispenses drug answers with a smile

Service responds to public's need to know

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

Pills, patches, capsules, sprays, herbs, ointments, syrups and vitamins --drugstore shelves are full of medications that promise health improvements but how do we know what is effective and what is not?

Rola Khalil-Priatel says the answer is often just a phone call away.

The UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences alumna co-ordinates BC SMILE, the Service for Medication Information Learning and Education in B.C. It is a medication information program staffed by three part-time and three casual licensed pharmacists and operated from UBC's Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The service supplements consultation with community pharmacists who may not have time to research and answer complicated queries.

"Most of our callers are interested in getting credible unbiased information about the latest therapies for the most common chronic illnesses," says Khalil-Priatel. "We also get many calls about new natural products that are either in the news or being telemarketed right now."

Questions about herbal medicines, hormone replacement therapy and medications for osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease, form the majority of the approximately 4,000 enquiries received annually. Other issues include side effects of medications, interactions between medications and information on herbs and vitamins.

Callers range from nursing mothers to elderly persons asking about herbs for memory loss to people wondering about the safety of everything from Ritalin to aspartame.

"Our callers are very interested in taking care of their own health," says Khalil-Priatel. "They are looking for best evidence data, even for herbal treatments."

Staff keep up with the volume of drug information by taking 20 credits of Continuing Pharmacy education annually, maintaining their own clinical practices and reading weekly updates in pharmaceutical journals. All responses and references are documented on confidential forms.

Formerly focused on the needs of seniors, BC SMILE officially changed its mandate this spring to better reflect the range of service and projects within the program.

In addition to answering telephone queries from the public, disease prevention and support groups, law enforcement officers and the media, the service also offers weekly presentations to the public and to professional societies. Last year BC SMILE pharmacists spoke to approximately 2,000 people in the Lower Mainland and other areas. Community pharmacy residents complete practicums at BC SMILE and staff--all but one of whom are UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences graduates--also supervise directed studies students. Five UBC student volunteers and one student employee work with the service doing research, retrieving articles, designing Web information and promotional materials and attending community health fairs. The BC SMILE office has also developed a fourth-year Pharmaceutical Sciences elective course and practicum to help students develop the competencies necessary to provide comprehensive drug information to the general public and other health professionals.

Begun in 1995, BC SMILE is supported by the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, the B.C. College of Pharmacists, the B.C. Ministry of Health, pharmaceutical manufacturers and others.

more information

Visit the Web site at Call 604-822-1330 or toll-free in B.C. at 1-800-668-6233 (Monday to Friday, 10 a.m to 4 p.m. or leave a voice mail message).