There is a message on your phone from your drug store notifying you that your prescription is ready for pick- up! This is a surprise to you since you had not requested a prescription refill. This happened mostly likely because you were signed up by your pharmacy for its “automatic refill program.” When enrolled, the pharmacy tracks to see if you are due for a refill. If so, the pharmacy automatically fills it for you and calls to notify you that your medicine is ready for pick-up.

Now, at first glance, this may seem quite convenient. Many of us get so engrossed in our daily routines that we simply forget to put in a refill for our medicine. However, be careful that the pharmacy doesn’t refill a medicine that your doctor stopped because it was not working or because it had side effects.

Sometimes a refill that is “ready for pick-up” should be left right where it is.

Q: My boyfriend and I both smoke a little recreational marijuana, about once a week. He has to take a drug test for a new job a month from now. I told him he needs to stop to let the drug get out of his system, but he swears that if he takes goldenseal, the marijuana won’t show up in his drug screening tests.

A: The rumor that goldenseal can mask certain drugs seems to have gotten started after the book “Stringtown on the Pike,” which was written by a pharmacist back in 1900. I won’t go into the particulars of how it’s supposed to work, but tons of websites advertise goldenseal as an effective method for causing false negatives on several drug-screening tests. Some even claim that consuming goldenseal with a gallon of water “flushes” illicit drugs from the system. Well, they’re wrong. It’s not true. Studies show goldenseal is not effective for masking illicit drugs in common drug-screening tests. So, tell your boyfriend that if he doesn’t want to kiss that job goodbye, he’d better lay off. Oh, one last thing. Tell him that using doses of goldenseal for prolonged periods might cause serious side effects, including depression, nervousness, cardiac damage, seizures and paralysis.

Q: My husband and I are fighting over bottled water versus water out of the tap for our kids. He argues that the fluoride in the water system causes cancer. I keep telling him that’s bunk. Which one of us is right?

A: There’s been concern about the safety of fluoride ever since the U.S. began adding it to the water system in 1945. Nearly 40 years later, people latched onto a bogus study suggesting that more cases of cancer cropped up in areas treated with fluoride. Now, more than 50 studies show there’s no evidence that fluoridated water causes cancer. What it does do is help to prevent tooth decay and cavities by reducing the amount of acid released by oral bacteria. I would think that would be a very important benefit for your children.

Q: I take vitamin E tablets daily, but now I’m hearing that the natural vitamin E found in foods is more effective than synthetic vitamin E.

A: Lots of patients are hearing that “natural” vitamin E is better than “synthetic” vitamin E. As Public Enemy once said, “Don’t believe the hype.” The most common form of vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol. There are eight different isomers of alpha-tocopherol. The isomer RRR-alpha-tocopherol (formerly d-alpha-tocopherol) is sometimes called “natural” vitamin E because it occurs naturally in foods. Synthetic vitamin E contains a mixture of all eight different isomers. It’s referred to as all-racemic-alpha-tocopherol (formerly d,l-alpha-tocopherol). It’s true that natural vitamin E is the most active form of alpha-tocopherol. It has the highest affinity for the transport protein that carries vitamin E from the liver to the plasma. But there’s no proof that natural vitamin E has any clinically significant advantage over synthetic vitamin E.

Q: I’ve don’t have health insurance, so I’m trying to save money on my prescriptions by buying them over the Internet from Canada. Then, I read about a guy who was busted for selling prescription to people in other countries through the Internet. So, I’m figuring if it’s illegal to sell like that, then maybe it’s illegal to buy like that.

A: Bingo! You go to the head of the class. More and more patients are trying to save money by purchasing prescription drugs from Canada. They’re hearing from friends and news reports that they can save up to 70 percent on the cost of prescription drugs by getting them from Canada. In fact, nearly a million packages of prescription drugs are sent to the U.S. from Canadian pharmacies each year. But importing prescription drugs is technically illegal. For now, the Food and Drug Administration isn’t squashing the practice. They’re turning a blind eye to the practice as long as patients are importing a 90-day supply for personal use only. A handful of legislative bills that would allow U.S. residents to import drugs have been proposed, but all have failed. My biggest concern is safety. Are you really getting the drugs that you think you are or something else. So, be very, very careful.

Do you have questions about your medication, concerns about a friend’s or relative’s prescription or just want to keep up with the latest developments. In that case, ask syndicated columnist Dr. Daphne Bernard, a doctor of pharmacy and a registered pharmacist in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. She is assistant dean and associate professor at the Howard University School of Pharmacy and a member of numerous boards and associations, including the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the District of Columbia Board of Pharmacy, the Nonprescription Medicines Academy, Rho Chi Honor Society, American Pharmacists Association and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, Please email her at