My local pharmacies are stocked with all manner of products. Prescription-only and regulated medicines increasingly comprise only a small fraction of the total shelf space. This is ok on the whole; I understand they need to make a dollar. Nappies, tissues, health foods, make-up I can handle. In fact, I’ve purchased many of these extraneous products from a pharmacy myself in times of need (dammit, I need a geranium-pink nail polish and I want it now!).
But when a pharmacy staffer tries to forces items of ‘complementary medicine’ down my throat, I get a little testy.
This morning the lady at my local discount chemist was seriously offended when I didn’t want to chat with her at length, and indeed purchase, some ‘oral eczema prevention product’ for my son.
“Is it natropathy?”
She answered a little hesitantly. Not convincing.
“So, what is the active ingredient?”
“Oh, it’s just a range of ingredients which will support your son’s skin”.
Enough said. I ignored her completely.
Regardless of my attitude, next she started hocking a ‘natural’ cream. I said I’d already tried the specific one she mentioned and that it hadn’t work for us.
“Well, you’d be the only person I’ve ever met who says it doesn’t work”.
Judgemental, subjective, anecdotal rubbish.
A few grumpy hours later, I started wondering: are there actually any regulations guiding pharmacies about what they can sell, and how their staff sell it? Is it indeed ethical to sell products which have never been tested by clinical trial almost side by side with proven medicines?
I’ve discovered there is a Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Code of Ethics, but this appears to only address clinical practise, not issues around retail. Also in existence is a Guild Pharmacy Academy, which ‘is the leading provider of vocational and education training for pharmacy and dispensary assistants in Australia’, but again I could find no guidelines offering advice on what can be sold in a ‘chemist shop’, and what sort of information should accompany each sale.
Most interestingly, I did find an article by public health expert Ken Harvey describing a 2011 deal between the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and complementary medicine company Blackmores which featured the following quote:
“From October, pharmacists’ computer systems will prompt them to discuss a Blackmores Companion range product with patients picking up a prescription for one of four popular medications.”
Fortunately, the deal has now been revoked (see article in The Australian), but it does highlight the point I’m trying to make: there needs to be clarity about what pharmacies sell, which products are supported by an evidence base, and who can give advice when sales are made.
I don’t want to be buying medicines and related items from a person whose only training has come from the company sales rep.
Postscript: Since writing the article above, I’ve received advice from a pharmacist that there are no regulations guiding what can be sold in a pharmacy, as long as The Poisons Standard is not breached, and that all products claiming to have a health benefit are registered for an Aust R or an Aust L number. My issues still stands.
[photo thanks to wrestlingentropy on flickr]