Chemistry – The Good, the Bad, and the Unpronounceable
Kathy Bradley - Your 'Phriendly' Pharmacist - May 08, 2018
test tubes and beakers with brightly colored liquid in them Chemicals - friends or foes, good or bad, safe or unsafe? The easy answer is Yes. A little investigation goes a long way in understanding the risks and benefits chemicals afford in our daily lives.

If you can't pronounce it, don't eat (or ingest) it. Such is a popular mantra of the day. In fact, one well-known author has made the statement, "There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever." Hmm, that could be quite problematic because we would all starve.

Let me show you what I mean:

nutritional content of banana: water, sugar, glucose, etc.

Would you eat this? 

I know I wouldn't.

These are the chemicals (yes, chemicals) that constitute a pristine, natural banana. Why wouldn't I eat this? Only because I don't like bananas. My point is that everything is made of chemicals.  So, if you see a product advertised as chemical-free – well, that’s an impossibility, not to mention a little suspicious.

Need more proof? Let me tell you about one particularly deadly compound known to cause a rapid inability to breathe – DHMO, aka, dihydrogen monoxide. DHMO is otherwise known as water – a vital requirement for life.  

As with anything, misuse can result in dire consequences.  What makes the difference with this deadly chemical – water? We all recognize that drinking a glass of H2O is in no way the same as extended submersion in the local swimming pool without a shorkel or adaptive breathing device. (As a side note, yes, one CAN drink too much water, resulting in a condition called hyponatremia – but that’s a subject for another day.)  

What does this all mean from a pharmacist's perspective? Let’s take this same analogy and apply it to medications. Just as water is, medications can be life-saving or deadly depending on how they are used.  There are wrong ways to use them and there is the correct way.  Thus, among healthcare professionals, five checkpoints have been established to ensure their safe use.

The “5 Rights” concerning medication (and using the aforementioned compound as an example):
  1. The right patient – Is this person swimming or drinking?  That will determine much with regard to safety.
  2. The right drug – Is this truly water or another compound such as bleach or ammonia?  The difference is (obviously) critical.
  3. The right dose – An 8 oz. glass differs significantly from a gallon or a full pool.
  4. The right route – Oral intake of water is much preferred over inhalation.
  5. The right time – While the individual is asleep is never a good time to douse them with a faceful of water. (Of course, there is the entertainment factor of a practical joke, but that too is a topic for another time.)

Obviously, some substances are lethal, to be avoided.  But medications can be friend or foe depending on how we use them.  Get to know these friends, along with their appropriate safety measures.  If you have questions – and I expect you will – ask your friendly pharmacist.  We have all kinds of interesting information stored in our brain cells.

The bottom line – the words of Alison Hudson – “You’d be amazed at what's not worth being afraid of.”