‘Coke And Fries’ Backlash – Pharmacy Guild Of Australia’s Alt Med Tie-In With Blackmores

The more than 200 audits of complementary medicines, conducted between June 2009 and December 2010, found hundreds of instances where treatments failed to comply with regulations and sparked a wave of news reports, opening something like this: ”Many vitamins, herbs and Chinese medicines make false claims and don’t work.”

…Research has shown that more than half of Australians incorrectly believe alternative medicines are independently tested by the TGA before being allowed on sale. That is true of only a small number. –The Age, ‘Trick or Treat’Gary Tippett, Oct.2, 2011.

I’ve been in a situation before where, upon entering a pharmacy to purchase an over-the-counter product, I’ve been asked by the sales clerk if I’d like to chat to their resident homeopath before making my final choice.

Admittedly, I was less than polite about that suggestion – I indicated firmly that I had a good grasp of the (lack of) efficacy of alternative medicine, in particular its inability to deal with the condition that I was seeking help for. I don’t know if my attitude was reflected by others in the community, but I noticed that their ‘resident’ didn’t seem to last very long and eventually the store itself was relegated to half its size when a new tenant filled up the gap left by the homeopath’s booth in the store. Maybe, just by speaking out, I helped make a difference.

So, I usually keep that in mind when I see the news about Blackmores’ chief executive Christine Holgate’s junk food analogy, (re: ‘Would you like coke and fries with that?’) regarding a business deal with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. A situation where products and the need to get accurate information out about them…are challenged by what I consider to be a potentially disastrous deal – this summary is from the Business pages of The Australian:

COMMONWEALTH Bank analysts have backed a tie-up between Blackmores and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to push sales of nutritional supplements.

The guild, which represents 94 per cent of the country’s 5200 pharmacists, has agreed to recommend a range of dietary and nutritional supplements to patients when they pick up prescriptions for antibiotics, high blood pressure and cholesterol drugs.

Under the agreement, when a prescription is filled, the pharmacist’s computer will remind them to discuss a Blackmores supplement to offset the possible side-effects of the prescription medicine.


Of course, a number of Australian media outlets have been reporting the story since late September, with this article breaking today: Gary Tippet with ‘Trick Or Treat’ (and if you’re not familiar with Trick Or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial, do make an effort to get this book for one of the most readable, comprehensive resources on alternative medicine):

Potentially applying to 58 million prescriptions a year, it sounded like a win/win for both the company and the pharmacists. But it seems to have backfired dramatically – in part because of Blackmores chief executive Christine Holgate’s junk food analogy, that the deal would add ”the Coke and fries” to prescription drugs – and by the end of the week Blackmore was feeling beleaguered.

The media reaction had unleashed public ”vitriol” against pharmacists, Blackmore said, and ”an important program to support the healthcare of patients on some leading pharmaceutical drugs has ended up as an attack on complementary medicine”.

Simon Singh (one of the co-authors of Trick Or Treatment?) is quoted in the article:

”However, the key reason why people waste so much money on herbal remedies is that they are being misled,” he says. ”The fact that these products are being sold in apparently responsible outlets misleads patients into thinking they are more effective than the evidence suggests. The fact that many herbalists present bad evidence as good evidence is misleading. The fact that the media often provide a rose-tinted view, including in the health pages, is also misleading.

”Finally, the fact that the regulators do not intervene means that the public is constantly receiving misinformation about herbal remedies.”

As Singh points out, the ongoing support of alternative medicine is one of those unsinkable rubber-ducks for a number of reasons… but it’s not helped by profits clearly being made via the connection of the Pharmacy Guild and Blackmores!

Considering the media attention (quite rightly!) that this is getting, I’m taking heart by the fact that the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia is ‘Reminding Pharmacists Of Their Responsibilities‘:

“At our national congress next week, PAC11, PSA will be launching a revised Code of Ethics which is designed to underpin the professional role of pharmacists as health-care clinicians,” Mr Kardachi said.“This code reinforces the principle that pharmacists should ensure that medicines and products they recommend are evidence-based and will have positive health outcomes for consumers.”

The picture used in this blog-post, by Australia’s Chemist Warehouse is also a good illustration of how companies can set a good example: ‘Chemist Warehouse will NEVER instruct our staff to automatically recommend a complementary product with your prescription… – PROFESSIONALS PRACTICING PROFESSIONALLY.’

Of course, with my example of voting with my feet and refusing an alternative medicine product instead of my over-the-counter medication, we can all play a part by speaking out to our local pharmacies.

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