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Theatre of the absurd - Blackmore's and the Pharmacy Guild
Many years ago I did some stage acting, and one of the plays we performed was Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco which was part of what was known as "The Theatre of the absurd", a sort of literary equivalent to surrealist art, where what was happening was challenging to the senses and the observer's perception of reality. I thought I had fallen into another Ionesco play this week when I read that an arrangement had been made between the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (the professional body for retail pharmacists) and Blackmore's (the country's leading manufacturer of supplements and "alternative" medicines). From now on, when people have prescriptions filled for certain classes of medications the pharmacist will advise them of "complementary" Blackmore's products to counter the side effects of the medications. Blackmore's claim to have scientific evidence to back up these claims, but I'm not certain who would have done this research or what the quality would be.
Whether such research has been done or not is not the question. Pharmacists should be able to be relied on to only supply good advice and not to second-guess the suggestions of the doctors who wrote prescriptions. They should also not be seen to be promoting in any way the activities of people and organisations which exist for the sole purpose of providing untested and possibly ineffectual nostrums to the public. In every pharmacy there seems to be dozens of shelves devoted to quackery of almost every kind, with homeopathic cures battling for shelf space alongside vitamin supplements touted to prevent almost everything and bottles of herb extracts with no evidence of being of any use for anything.
The Pharmacy Guild has form on this. In 2005 they joined forces with the Complementary Health Care Council of Australia (the professional body for snake oil manufacturers and distributors) to run a "Natural Healthcare Expo" in Sydney. In 2008 the retail pharmacists of Australia were awarded The Bent Spoon by Australian Skeptics for the practice of selling rubbish in a manner which legitimised it by association with real, tested, effective medications and medical treatments.
I have made a personal resolution about this. If I am offered some form of quackery by my pharmacist when I get a prescription filled I will tell him that he has used up all his chances, and the next time he does it will be the last time I do any business with his shop. Hopefully sufficient thinking people will do this and that the pharmacists will reconsider this ludicrous association with an organisation that denies the worth of the science they learned as part of their professional training.
And here's a suggestion for Blackmore's if they really want to get pharmacists providing good advice about their products. Whenever a prescription is filled, get the pharmacist to say which SCAM (supplementary, complementary and alternative medicine) products should NOT be taken at the same time as the medication. I'm sure that if they are honest and only want the best for patients they will be providing this information as soon as they can have the interaction and contraindication sheets printed and distributed.
This article was published on the Yahoo! 7 News Blog on September 28, 2011
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