I think people really take for granted how much trust is needed at the pharmacy. We’re comforted by the idea that the Pharmacist at the store is trained, with years of schooling and experience before they are ever released into the wild to dabble in prescription drugs. And in my time working at a local pharmacy, I was consistently impressed by the level of dedication that the pharmacists demonstrated. I would trust any of them with my prescriptions. Unfortunately there are forces at work other than these few experts. And beyond them, my experience was very unnerving.
I worked at a local grocery store pharmacy that serves hundreds of people their prescriptions every day. It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that grocery stores have no business dealing in pharmaceuticals. The main reason being is that grocery stores are a business, and they are driven by profits. This store in particular relies heavily on its pharmacy for revenue, and like many stores, it treats its pharmacy just like any other part of the store. As if the Xaxax was on aisle five next to the potato chips. The inherent problem with this is that a pharmacy isn’t a store. It’s not a place where you can just grab a couple Suboxone with a lotto ticket and be on your merry way. Once a medication is prescribed it needs to be checked for several things. Where was this medication prescribed? By whom? Has this person ever had it before? Are they taking any other medications that would interact with it? Do they have allergies to something in it? Is it covered by their insurance, etc.? And the vast majority of the time these questions are not answered by the pharmacist. Pharmacy technicians have become commonplace due to the extreme strain the pharmacists are put under. Usually the pharmacist will only have time for a final check at the end of the entire process to count and double check the medications going out.
The grocery store pharmacy has created the illusion of simplicity. To the point where we now have drive-thru pharmacies and guarantees for “Prescriptions in 15 minutes or less!” This isn’t fast food, its medicine. And the continuing Mcdonaldization of these pharmacies is the work of the corporations that own the stores. They want as much revenue as they can possibly get, while keeping labor costs low. A great model if you’re running a business, but it puts an unbearable amount of pressure on the pharmacists and techs who are trying their best not to kill anyone. One small mistake, a paper in the wrong place, the wrong dosage, two names that look similar- it’s all it takes. These mistakes do happen. There was nothing more panic-inducing at that job than the realization that a customer just walked away with the wrong medication, and the frantic calls made in attempt to intercept them from taking them. Attempting to be that meticulous, while the business end of the equation is breathing down your neck to “Sell! Sell! Sell!” is not only nerve wracking, but totally unethical.