While the issue of CMs in pharmacy is currently being debated, some experts believe selling the product in vending machines goes “beyond the pale”
A group called Vitamin Warehouse has installed several vending machines in a shopfront on Fitzroy Street in Melbourne’s St Kilda that are reportedly open 24 hours a day.
The vending machines have built-in computer screens that allow “the purchase of over 1,000 products of Swisse, Blackmores, Nature’s Own, Healthy Care, Centrum, Herron, Cenovis and every other brand not previously possible in any current pharmacy health food store or supermarket retail outlet,” explains managing director Hari Shotham.
“Furthermore instant [access] to any naturopath of the brands available as well as to over 4,000 Australian naturopaths using on-spot interactive chat through our touch screen computer,” says Mr Shotham.
The vending machines also sell analgesics, fragrances, cosmetics and soft drinks.
According to the results of an AJP poll, most of our readers (37%) believe such vitamin vending machines are “a bad idea for public health”.
“Unlimited, unsupervised access to medicines is surely our last opportunity to have them rescheduled??” commented reader Nicholas Logan.
However, a further 34% believe such vending machines “won’t make that much of a difference, people can already buy these items at supermarkets & servos”.
Eleven per cent of people respondents say “they’re convenient and a smart idea”.
And only 9% say “they will take business away from pharmacies”.
Dr Ken Harvey, Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University and spokesperson for Friends of Science in Medicine believes it’s all gone too far.
“Vending machines selling vitamins really goes beyond the pale, it’s a step too far,” says Dr Harvey.
“This highlights a key question that is currently being debated in AJP and will also be aired in the ABC 4-Corners program [on Monday night]. Are complementary medicines (vitamins, herbals, etc.) normal items of commerce that can be sold anywhere without the availability of professional advice (as they currently are in supermarkets)?” he asks.
“Alternatively, given that these products are currently classified as “medicines” by the TGA, and they can have problems such as side-effects (e.g. allergy, Echinacea) and drug interactions (St John’s wort), should they only be sold where advice from a health professions is available?”
Dr Harvey asks whether advice from a naturopath from a vending machine touch screen would be better or worse than that obtained from a naturopath in a health food store, or from a pharmacist in a pharmacy.
“This would make another interesting project for CHOICE mystery shoppers!” he says, referring to a recent CHOICE survey that found many pharmacists recommend products with little or no evidence to support their efficacy.
The PSA should look into the issue on how selling CMs is reflecting on the pharmacy profession, Dr Harvey adds.
“This is an opportunity for pharmacists to get their act together,” he says.
The PSA confirms that recommending non-evidence based complementary medicines to patients is not supported by PSA’s recently revised Code of Ethics or Position Statement on Complementary Medicines.
Consumers should consult pharmacists before taking any complementary medicines, the PSA recommends.
“Pharmacists – as healthcare professionals – are best placed to assist consumers in making informed, evidence-based decisions regarding complementary medicines and many pharmacists in Australia already adhere to PSA’s Code of Ethics principles and position statement on this issue.
“PSA strongly recommends that all consumers considering taking complementary medicines consult with pharmacists who adhere to PSA’s Code of Ethics and provide evidence-based advice.”
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia agrees that the best place to obtain objective, informed advice about complementary medicines is at a community pharmacy.
“The Guild believes 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,” says National President George Tambassis.