World news wrapup: 6 May 2021

Savannah Sparks, aka the “RxOrcist”

Crusading pharmacist doxxed for countering misinformation; NZ independents face CWH, Bargain Chemist openings

Mississippi, US: A pharmacist has been “doxxed” and received death threats after she gained a strong TikTok following for her posts debunking misinformation about health care.

Savannah Sparks, a doctor at a pharmacy who uses the handle “RxOrcist,” has made a series of posts countering messages spread by anti-vaccination posters, people who make incorrect claims about the safety and efficacy of medicines, and those who promote treatments which are not evidence-based. She is particularly interested in countering misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.

NBC reports that as well as fact-checking posts, Ms Sparks has also reported health workers who have been acting outside their scope of practice by making such claims.

For example, she reported a woman who claimed she was a pharmacy technician and who had posted saying that common medicines – including hormonal birth control and cholesterol medicines – were carcinogenic, to her supervisor, who was reportedly shocked.

“Her scope of practice doesn’t allow her … to counsel on medications so, especially coming from the realm of pharmacy, which is my wheelhouse, I really went in on that individual and I was like, ‘You really should not be talking about this’,” Dr Sparks told NBC.

Her TikTok account now has more than 467,000 followers and  her videos sometimes attract millions of views.

But Dr Sparks has now become the target of internet trolls, who have posted her phone number and address online (obtaining and publicly posting such information is known as “doxxing,”) and she has received graphic death and rape threats against not only herself, but her two-year-old daughter.

After stepping away from TikTok for a few weeks, she returned, however, saying that it is her “duty to stand up and do the right thing”.


New Plymouth, New Zealand: Independent pharmacies in New Plymouth, on New Zealand’s North Island, are facing the imminent opening of not one, but two discount pharmacies.

A Bargain Chemist – a New Zealand-owned discount chain – is set to open opposite a centrally-located supermarket, while a Chemist Warehouse is about to open at The Valley, which is already served by two pharmacies.

Both the large discounters are able to offer free scripts (out of their own pockets, absorbing the NZ$5 or AUD$4.64 copay) as well as discounted prices on other goods.

David Fabish, owner of the Vogeltown Pharmacy, told Stuff that the two new openings were a “hard pill to swallow”.

“It doesn’t make sense why two would pop at the same time.”

He said that because the discounters offer free scripts – “getting their money from somewhere else to off-set their money from doing scripts, and that’s retail” – the general public think independents are “ripping them off”.

He said that local pharmacists are worried that the large chains will destroy the independent sector in the area, and have asked the Taranaki District Health Board why they are permitting the new openings.

“Me and my colleagues are asking the DHB, ‘Can you tell us what we’re doing wrong?’

“What are we doing, as existing pharmacies in the area, to make them want to give out more contracts?”


United States: Black and Latino neighborhoods in the 30 most populous US cities had fewer pharmacies than white or diverse neighborhoods in 2007-2015, USC research shows, suggesting that ‘pharmacy deserts’ — like so-called food deserts — may be an overlooked contributor to persistent racial and ethnic health disparities.

Many neighborhoods in major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Memphis lack convenient access to a pharmacy, according to research published in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs.

“We focused on cities because of racial/ethnic residential segregation and the fact that more than 80% of the Black and Latino population in the US live in cities,” said senior author Dima Mazen Qato, Hygeia Centennial Chair and associate professor of pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy and senior fellow at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics.

“Our findings suggest that addressing disparities in geographic access to pharmacies — including pharmacy closures — is imperative to improving access to essential medications and other health care services in segregated minority neighborhoods,” added A/Prof Qato, who directs the Program on Medicines and Public Health.

One in three neighbourhoods in these cities were pharmacy deserts, the researchers found, affecting nearly 15 million people.

This varies across cities, with less than 10% of New York and Philadelphia neighbourhoods qualifying as pharmacy deserts, but more than 60% of neighbourhoods in Indianapolis, San Antonio and Charlotte so affected.

Stark disparities were found in LA, where a third of all Black and Latino neighbourhoods pharmacy deserts, particularly in South Central LA. The mot pronounced disparities were in Chicago, where 1% of white neighborhoods were pharmacy deserts in comparison to 33% of Black neighborhoods in the South Side neighborhoods of Chatham, West Pullman and Greater Grand Crossing.

“Traveling a mile to get your prescription medications may be convenient for people that own a car. Traveling a mile, or even half a mile, may be difficult for people who live in low-income neighborhoods and don’t drive, particularly older adults who rely on walking or public transportation,” A/Prof Qato said.


Surrey, England: A man has received somebody else’s medication not once, but twice in four months from the same pharmacy, reports CityNews.

A woman who wished to remain anonymous contacted the outlet with privacy concerns saying that her husband received a delivery from Save-On-Foods at the end of 2020, which contained another person’s medicines.

The person’s name, address and prescription were clearly visible, she said.

“We phoned Save-On and they didn’t seem too fussed about it, they just said, ‘oh, drop it by and we’ll give you yours’,” she said.

In February, it happened again, she said.

“I took [the prescription] home and we opened it up and it’s like, ‘wow, that looks different than normal,’” she said. “So we actually looked at it. It wasn’t for my husband, it wasn’t his medication, and then it was dated for October 2020 and this was February 2021 and we’re like, ‘what the heck?’”

She again contacted the pharmacy but felt the incidents were not taken seriously, and that “nobody seemed to really care”.

Save-On-Foods told CityNews that it follows stringent processes when dispensing scripts.

“While we can’t speak to the specifics of any case or customer, we have a thorough process for following up on prescription errors as soon as we are aware,” it said.

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