Pharmacy slammed on colds and flu

Zoe Norton Lodge on the checkout

The ABC’s The Checkout has again taken aim at pharmacy in a piece examining cold and flu remedies which one pharmacist says is timely, given scrutiny on the profession from the King Review.

“When it comes to colds and flu, pharmacies are full of shit!” the segment, Snot Rocket Science, claimed.

It slammed products including homeopathic lollipops marketed as medicine, Lemsip – suggesting ill consumers just buy paracetamol instead – and in particular PharmaCare Laboratories’ EASEaCOLD.

It also gave viewers a simple explanation of the difference between AUST L and AUST R labelling.

“When it comes to cold and flu treatments it can be hard to tell the difference between the ones that have been proven to work and the ones that haven’t,” said presenter Zoe Norton Lodge.

The show suggested that viewers think about “R for real, and L for lame… and pick something with ingredients that are proven to work.”

Friends of Science in Medicine’s Dr Ken Harvey told the AJP that his students are “chuffed,” pointing out a December 2015 The Conversation piece in which he and students Amy Yan and Ned Latham discussed their complaint about the promotion of EASEaCOLD remedies.

Samantha Kourtis, proprietor of the Charnwood Capital Chemist, which was named Pharmacy of the Year in 2014, said that the program was timely given the King Review discussion paper has queried whether pharmacy should be selling OTC and complementary medicines.

“Does the ‘retail environment’ within which community pharmacy operates detract from health care objectives?” was one of the 140 questions asked in the paper.

“There have been lots of comments with the pharmacy review panel, from clinical consultants and consumer advocacy groups saying pharmacies should not sell anything at all with no medical science behind it, so it’s a very hot topic,” Kourtis told the AJP.

“The profession and the products we sell are coming under a lot more scrutiny at the moment.”

She says that while she does not always think The Checkout’s satirical style is an appropriate way to discuss health care, the segment made several good points – but missed the mark on others.

“I was really pleased with the way they pointed out that we need to be careful with reading packages, because it must be really confusing for consumers,” she says.

“But there was a comment on their website where somebody said we all have to remember that AUST L doesn’t necessarily mean ineffective, it means the studies have not been done,” she says.

“So it’s not necessarily as black-and-white as they suggested; it’s not that evidence has concluded it’s ineffective in all cases, just that there isn’t evidence that there is. We need to be mindful of that.”

She says that she thinks most pharmacists are very mindful of recommending evidence-based medicines.

Kourtis also pointed out that part of the segment suggested consumers try saline nasal sprays to reduce decongestion rather than decongestant sprays due to the risk of rebound congestion; however the evidence on saline sprays suggests they may be no better than placebo, she says.

“I did like that they focused on common cold equals common sense,” she says.

The segment finished by suggesting rest, NPS MedicineWise’s home remedies, asking a pharmacist or doctor for advice or ringing the Medicine Infoline on 1300 MEDICINE.

However, Kourtis says that 90% of the colds and flu patients she sees are keen to gain symptom relief so they can get on with their lives, rather than resting.

“When I talk to patients about their viral URTIs I say, ‘You really need to rest,’ and talk about hydration, good quality nutrition and rest but they say they don’t have time.

“And I don’t think that’s just Australia, it’s societies around the world – there are financial constraints and lack of family support, and we want to feel better because we’re busy people.”

Watch the segment below:


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  1. Eddie

    Does the government ever commission a report to put the cleaners through the way the doctors practice? Talk about bias against pharmacy ie the King report. But then again, the government is scared of the doctors, but contemptuous of pharmacists’ ability to stand up for pharmacy. Ditto the media – when has there been a ‘mystery patient’ reporting on a 6.30pm TV show about surgeries, as opposed to a ‘mystery shopper’ slagging off the pharmacies?

    • Ron Batagol

      I’m sorry to say- it’s a “cop-out” to say that pharmacists should just supply self-assessed “busy people” with an assortment of half-baked products that at best may ameliorate symptoms, so that they can continue to go about heir business when they may have an infection that could cause a life-threatening infection to a vulnerable or immuno-compromised person that they are near in a public place or workplace. I don’t recall doctors suggesting to people that they “needn’t worry” about lifestyle changes that are needed if they have hypertension or heading towards diabetes or cardiac disease, so why should pharmacists compromise on giving the best advice and then let the patient/client work out how to best achieve the outcome? They would certainly gain the respect that is desperately needed as they gradually move to integrated practice models as are occurring in some overseas countries!!

  2. Paige

    Patient requests for crap like EASEaCOLD needs to be addressed at the root cause, TV advertising telling consumers it is clinically proven to make them immortal. We stock it in store so we can sell it and turn a profit as dictated by greedy owners. But you wont find many pharmacists who actively recommend it. If you aren’t giving proven symptom relief for day to day function and the necessary lifestyle direction to help accelerate recovery you aren’t doing your job properly.

  3. Simon O'Halloran

    The show demonstrates plenty of valid points but taken in context, let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story. Whilst carrying the AustR flag thus being ‘real?’ phenylephrine in practice (and also clinical trials) seems to demonstrate it is probably no better than placebo. It continues to be supplied (direct pharmacist recommendations, or indirectly via a pharmacy assistant or even worse: customer self-selection in a supermarket) because either it’s easier than taking a minute to discuss (and record) a more effective option such as pseudoephedrine (in spite of fears that every second patient is Jesse Pinkman in disguise) or educating on the appropriate use of topical decongestants (technique and duration) and lifestyle measures such as rest and preferably NOT selfishly ‘soldiering on’ and spreading your viruses everywhere. I don’t stock Ease-a-cold, have never tried it or recommended it (and had to look up what it contained), but it would probably be ‘non-inferior’ to a lot of the ‘no better than placebo’ PE products (+/- combined with sub-therapeutic doses of codeine and ineffective cough suppressants).

  4. Christine Carson

    The smoke and mirrors behind the Ease-a-Cold claims of efficacy do lend a certain snake oil merchant quality to the pharmacies that stock it.

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