Pharmacies slammed for stocking CMs

shopping pharmacy shelf selection

Health stakeholders have taken aim at pharmacists in a Four Corners investigation of complementary medicines

Swallowing It, which featured interviews with the King Review chair Professor Stephen King, Chemist Warehouse’s Damien Gance and AMA president Dr Michael Gannon, suggested that pharmacies were undermining public trust by stocking unproven CMs for financial reasons.

“A lot of community pharmacies… are trying to get more revenue out of front of shop,” Stephen King told Four Corners reporter Geoff Thompson. “And front of shop means the complementary medicines, the vitamins, the perfumes, the other products that they supply there.

“We have had passionate community pharmacists decrying their fellow pharmacists for stocking complementary medicines, for stocking vitamins, for stocking homoeopathy, for stocking products that have little if any medical credence.

“We’ve also had many other pharmacists saying, ‘What’s wrong with this? At least we can give some medical advice. If you come in for Horny Goat Weed or St John’s Wort and that’s going to cause a problem, at least there’s a pharmacist there who can talk to you about it.’

“So we’ve had passionate arguments put on both sides of this case.”


The return of Coke and fries?

Mr Thompson, referring to the 2011 “deal” between the Pharmacy Guild and Blackmores—which Professor Ken Harvey referred to as “a way of increasing sales”—said that “now the Coke and Fries idea is back, in the form of a new software program”.

The software in question was PharmaBuddy, which Mr Thompson described as “used by some pharmacists to increase their profits by selling complementary medicines with prescription drugs”.

Mr Thompson also spoke to Chemist Warehouse’s director and founder Damien Gance.

“We have a very simple philosophy, and that is we provide what the consumer’s after,” Mr Gance told Four Corners. “That will be within some limits, but for the most part if the consumer wants something to help them to be well, get well, stay well, we’ll provide it.”

Mr Gance said that if the customer is after complementary medicines, he is happy to provide them.

Professor King said that the discounters have turned the traditional pharmacy model, with most revenue flowing from the dispensary, on its head.

“They’re certainly putting pressure on the traditional community pharmacy.”

And AMA president Dr Michael Gannon said that when pharmacists sell non-evidence-based products, this gives these CMs legitimacy.

“Their margins are tight and I think there’s more and more evidence that they do make the majority of their income from the other things they sell, and the problem lies when they sell things that are potentially useful, potentially harmful,” Dr Gannon says.

“When we look at the most trusted professions, year on year on year, I’m proud to say that at the top is doctors, nurses and pharmacists, so that respect has been hard won.

“That’s put at risk if they’re being seen to promote treatments that are increasingly… the average consumer recognises as a load of rubbish.”

PSA and the Guild both responded yesterday to the ABC story as well as an investigation by Choice, which was also referred to in the Four Corners piece.

The PSA’s Joe Demarte said that, “pharmacists must ensure that consumers are provided with the best available information about the current evidence for efficacy, as well as information on any potential side effects, drug interactions and risks of harm”.

Meanwhile, the Guild’s George Tambassis said that, “pharmacists, as highly trusted health professionals, have a duty of care to be aware of available clinical evidence that supports the therapeutic and marketing claims made about products sold in their pharmacies”.


Watch the full story here.

Image: Four Corners

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  1. Daniel Roitman

    Good story but are they really reporting on anything new? Us evidence-based pharmacists have been voicing these concerns for years now.

    • William

      True but Choice and ABC just want to knock everything except themselves.

  2. bernardlou1

    I watched 4Corners with a smile on my face. The episode failed to point out that the majority of CM is sold through supermarkets and Chemist Warehouse.
    Why wasn’t the grocery sector interviewed and questioned that there is no such advice given.
    It’s clear to me that whole episode is trying to show that Pharmacists are profit driven and don’t really care about the consumer. That is the main reason why Pharmacists are trusted. As a matter of fact Pharmacists are higher than doctors on the the trust scale. Then they showed Mr King (with bad teeth) speaking with authority. The guy is best friend with Damien Ganks and I would like to know how much is he getting paid?
    By the grocery sector and the Chemist Warehouse. He is biased and should be removed from the review.
    The chick from the Choice needs some help with weight loss. It’s something that clearly due to consuming too much junk food thy she buys from supermarkets.

    • William

      Well most of their footage was taken in CW and not representative of the “normal” suburban pharmacy so I don’t think most the public would think so either.
      CW’s CEO needs to go to a Media presentation skills session IMHO.

  3. Patrick Mahony

    I also watched the program. Stephen King and CWH both confirmed the CM model was different to the “preferred” pharmacy model. The issue that I took from this was the CM industry promotion, on-line, in the media and in “Super” market catalogues is they are just selling a “product” not a “Medicine”.
    Just because you call something “Medicinal Cannabis” does not make it is a medicine, some CM’s are not medicines, even some of these items recommended by other health professionals.
    In all I think it was a very fair report card.

  4. Battista Mercuri

    …AMA president Dr Michael Gannon said ………..“When we look at the most trusted professions, year on year on year, I’m proud to say that at the top is doctors, nurses and pharmacists, so that respect has been hard won”.

    Well, a quick look at the Roy Morgan list of trusted professions from 1989 to 1993 sees Pharmacists 1st, Drs 2nd. The results from 1994 to 2016 sees Nurses 1st, Pharmacists 2nd, Doctors 3rd in all years except 2013 where Doctors were 2nd & Pharmacists 3rd. It’s interesting to see the order that Dr Gannon placed the professions. However, I think these survey results speak for themselves!

    Also, the ABC International arm , Australia Plus, has come under fire (August 2016) for signing a sponsorship deal with Swisse Wellness to help it promote its products through the Asia Pacific (see SMH article). Say no more!!

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