Medicine availability in America vs. Europe

Amalie Davidsen
Opinion Writer
adavidse@unca.edu

My first time at CVS was overwhelming. I was walking down aisle after aisle observing the different items sitting in various sections of the store – candy, soda, school supplies, even a broad variety of beers and wine were available.

My nose was runny; my eyelids were particularly dark while my skin was pale and my eyes were shiny. I held tightly onto the prescription I had picked up at the health center while my eyes were searching for the “medicine pick up” section of the store. I clearly remember my confusion regarding the combination of a pharmacy and a grocery store, which CVS is — being able to pick up medicine with a prescription after buying alcohol seemed odd to me.

Growing up, I was not allowed to take medicine or painkillers when sick or in pain, which is not unique in Danish society. Painkillers can only be bought in packs of 20, and sale is restricted to people over 16. There is no chance of finding melatonin, Tums or Ibuprofen in stores or pharmacies — especially not melatonin gummy bears. Along with this, Danish doctors would never prescribe you medicine as the first choice to get healthy.  

If I thought my first time at CVS was overwhelming, I don’t know how I would describe my first time at Wal-Mart — chaotic, probably. It was like the aisles were never-ending: candy, technology, food, teddy bears, school supplies, candles, etc. I clearly remember spending hours and hours walking around, overwhelmed by the selection of items. Of course, there was an aisle packed with different medicines. It was crazy: medicine for hair, skin, nails and even psoriasis was available for customers to buy without a prescription.

During my time preparing for college in America, the autoimmune disease psoriasis hit me, causing 80 percent of my skin to break out with red flaky spots.

Psoriasis is very painful to myself and my self-esteem. I went to a Danish dermatologist who gave me a mild prescription cream and had me complete ultraviolet light treatment, which lessened the pain and caused the spots to gradually ease out. Honestly, it barely worked; the treatment did not kill my psoriasis breakout and I traveled to the U.S. with approximately 50 percent of my body still covered. Psoriasis is triggered by stress or trauma, and going to America was definitely stressful, causing another, unfortunately very severe, psoriasis breakout.

I clearly remember walking into the waiting room of the dermatologist, which the health center had referred me to; white shiny walls decorated with pictures of happy folks with great skin and white teeth. I took a seat in one of the many chairs and observed the other people waiting; some were reading magazines, others were staring emptily into the air, but they all had many years of age in common — I was for sure the youngest one.

Every fifth minute a nurse dressed in green with their makeup and hair done nicely came to call out the patients. After waiting a while, a middle-aged nurse called my name and guided me into the room where I would meet my dermatologist. I will never forget how he looked like a rich Hollywood star; his teeth were perfect, his skin was shiny and slick and his hair had a glorious splendor. Briefly, I was very intimidated.

Five minutes after, I walked out with a prescription of the injection medicine Humira, as well as three other prescriptions for strong creams and pills. At that time it seemed ridiculous to me the amount of medicine I was about to consume, and still use, but after two months my skin was 90 percent clear. Today, my skin is completely clear, and scars from previous breakouts are the only aspects of my disease visible.

First, I was skeptical about the casual nature of medicine in America, and I still do not know what I think about the idea of buying sleeping medicine masked as gummy bears or packs of 500 Ibuprofen. However, I know medicine is what helps me control my own disease, and I am willing to take the risk of possible side effects.

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