Pharmacists – The Losers & Heroes

  • Published
  • 4 mins read

About 100 years ago, during Prohibition, apothecaries were the place to hang out since the neighborhood bars had closed. The corner drugstore was where people traded “hard” liquor in for “soft” drinks and it was also a time when pharmacists were actual chemists blending herbals and medicinals, so much so that the formulas and quality varied from store to store, and some interesting concoctions came about. Did you know Coca Cola syrup was invented by pharmacist John Pemberton back in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia?

Fast forward to today in which Coca Cola is a global hit, and medications are commercially prepared by large corporations, not individuals. The pharmacist’s role is seen as “lick, stick and pour” as the saying goes. But that is just a saying, you know, as the pharmacist’s role is getting more clinical and becoming more like a doctor in the sense that prescribing is now permitted in some states.

Recently, Oregon and New Mexico both signed into law a bill that allows pharmacists to prescribe and dispense birth control pills to women straight out of the pharmacy, without a physical exam or lab work. No doctor needed really. This may sound weird to you but the precedent was set years ago when (in some states) pharmacists were granted prescribing rights to go ahead and administer certain flu vaccines from the pharmacy setting.

The ability for pharmacists to prescribe contraception saves valuable time and money for all parties involved, but it does beg the question: Which prescription medications are next on the “allowed to be prescribed” formulary? And in regard to birth control pills, are the prescribers advising women that their oral contraceptive will slowly deplete their bodies of magnesium, selenium, and crucial B vitamins and that they might wind up depressed, hypothyroid and anxious unless they put back what the “drug mugger” stole? Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally fine with an expanded role for pharmacists, I just wonder if there’s any type of warning about drug-nutrient depletion given out. Since I literally wrote the book on this topic, I can’t help but wonder.

Will the pharmacist’s role continue to expand as patients develop a level of trust and prefer to see them over their physician due to cost or appointment times? Will addictive drugs such as opiates, benzodiazepines or sleeping pills be next?

Pharmacists have once more been ranked among the most honest and ethical professionals in the United States, according to the results of the latest Gallup poll on the topic. We as a group have to work hard to claim that “Most Trusted Profession” title given year after year, always #1 or #2. We are right up there with nurses (who claimed the #1 top spot in 2016) and are well above bankers, clergy, dentists and even police officers.

But some pharmacists give the practice a bad name. For example, in June 2017, a Massachusetts pharmacist, Barry Cadden, was sentenced to 9 years prison because he compounded injectable steroids that were contaminated which led to the deaths of 76 people in 2012. Others survived but remain in pain or disabled to this day from the meningitis they contracted from his dirty shots. Cadden was not convicted of murder, but the lesser charges of racketeering and fraud in connection with the meningitis outbreak.

Stories like this are highly unusual though, remember pharmacists are in it to help people, not hurt you. This case is so bizarre, and so rare that the Department of Justice even called it the largest public health crisis ever caused by a pharmaceutical!

Contrast that with the quick-thinking pharmacist who just saved 57-year old Mark Davey’s life. Mark was eating lunch, and out of the blue, his tongue started to swell up. He drove himself to CVS pharmacy thinking he could buy Benadryl to help, but upon arrival his status immediately worsened and he began gasping. Pharmacist Bhavini Patel was working that day, and she called paramedics, then injected Mark with some Epi-Pen (epinephrine) from her pharmacy in an attempt to save his life. It worked! Mark was experiencing an anaphylactic allergy to his food. He had never had a food allergy before. I applaud Pharmacist Patel, she is a true hero. Even though it may have gone against store policy to administer the shot, she did what she felt was right and compassionate. How awesome!

What would you do in a moment of conflict like that?
Davey is doing well, and now carries an EpiPen wherever he goes. He is alive because pharmacists are not just there to lick, stick and pour. We are healers by nature and interested in getting you well. For me specifically, I’d love to go back in time and work in one of those apothecaries and dispense custom-blended remedies and soft drinks to you.