There’s a reason why many folks think drug companies are only out to make money. You may have heard the story. Not long ago, a drug used to prevent premature births, progesterone, went from $10 a shot to $1,500 a shot after KV Pharmaceuticals secured exclusive rights to sell the drug.

What was a pregnant woman to do? Well, consumers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, researchers and patient advocacy groups were outraged. The media wrote and broadcast stories that apparently forced both KV Pharmaceuticals and the Food and Drug Administration’s hand. As a result, two significant changes occurred: the FDA put out a statement that it would not stop other pharmacies from making and manufacturing, and the drug company dropped the price of their drug from $ 1500 to $ 690 per shot. Your local pharmacist may still be the best option for women who need the drug.

Pharmacists all over the country have been making these progesterone shots for years, and they are no different from what KV Pharmaceuticals produces. So for now, simply trust your pharmacist to do what they do best by ensuring that you get safe, effective and affordable medicine.

Q: I am a new diabetic, so now I’m always looking for sugar-free alternatives. I’ve been using Nutrasweet and Equal instead of sugar. But my husband claims the aspartame in Nutrasweet and Equal causes brain tumors and other diseases.
A:  Well, if you listen to all the claims on chat rooms and websites, aspartame can cause everything from multiple sclerosis to brain tumors to lupus to Alzheimer’s disease to a third foot growing out of your ear. The theorists argue that aspartame is converted to methanol in the body that is then turned into formaldehyde and formic acid, which do all sorts of damage.
Yes, aspartame is converted to methanol, but the amount is smaller than that produced by foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes. Now, aspartame can be harmful for people diagnosed with a rare disorder called phenylkotornuria. It contains the amino acid phenylalanine, which causes neurotoxicity in these patients. So, no Nutrasweet for you.

Q: I take Lipitor. I have always been told that if I really want to keep my cholesterol low, I should take my medicine at night.
A:  I often tell patients to take statins like Lipitor, Crestor and Pravachol in the evening, because most cholesterol is produced at night. But this isn’t always necessary. Actually, they can be taken at any time of the day. These drugs have a half-life of 19 hours or longer. So, these statins seem to be just as effective no matter what time of day they are taken. Now, Zocor and Mevacor are slightly more effective when they’re taken in the evening. The most important thing is to take your medicine daily. I still recommend taking Mevacor, Altocor, Zocor, and Lescol in the evening. Patients can take Lipitor, Crestor, or Pravachol whenever they take their other meds.

Q: My uncle says the aluminum and mercury in influenza vaccines can cause Alzheimer’s disease.
A: Tell your uncle to stay away from tabloid stories. First, the flu vaccine does not contain aluminum. It does contain a form of mercury called thimerosal, which is also used in eye drops and contact lens solution. One flu shot contains 25 micrograms of mercury, a tiny amount. The small amount of mercury that you would receive over a life time of annual flu shots is well below acceptable limits set by regulatory agencies. In fact, there is much more mercury in one can of tuna fish than in one flu shot. So, no, there is no evidence that influenza vaccines cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Q: I take medicine for acid reflux disease. Should I also be taking vitamin B12. Yes, I saw it on the Internet.
A: Well, that depends on a number of factors. There are studies that show acid reflux medicines called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine blockers (H2 blockers) can lower serum vitamin B12 levels. But, these were studies in people who were using acid suppressive therapy chronically for many years. ?People usually have a large vitamin B12 reserve. In fact, it takes at least two to five years to use up your vitamin B12 stores. It’s mostly a concern in patients whose dietary intake is very low, such as chronic alcoholics and strict vegetarians. Vitamin B12 deficiency is also more common in the elderly, because they tend to produce less gastric acid. ?

So, if you have been taking PPIs or H2 blockers chronically for two or more years, please have your vitamin B12 levels checked periodically. A daily multivitamin containing vitamin B12 will provide more than enough of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B12.

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


Dr. Daphne Bernard

Special to the AFRO