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Feb. 22 2010 - 1:02 pm | 437 views | 1 recommendation | 8 comments

Drug Stores are Totally Unethical

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The other day I bought allergy medication at a massive national chain drug store. I found the display of everything to ease my hay fever right next to some freshly cut flowers, which just so happens to be what I’m most allergic to. I was in a retail establishment and the treatment was right next to the irritant. Like a strip club that’s also a divorce law firm.

My experience is pretty low level when you consider most pharmacies these days are nestled in the middle of a fully-stocked convenience store. So if you’re say, diabetic you have to pass the candy aisle (twice) to get your insulin. In fact everyone with health issues related to poor diet goes to the pharmacy only to stare at the corn crunches and processed meats offered in close proximity to the appetite suppressants. Not to mention the stop smoking aids adjacent to the cigars. And yes, our commercial mega-drug stores sell cigarettes. So when you’re getting refills on your heap of emphysema treatments, you won’t have to make a second stop to get some smokes.

It’s convenience. It’s what the consumer wants. It’s offering “choices.”

The premise of today’s giant drug stores is one giant conflict of interest. Where would junk food sell better than as an impulse item while you’re standing in line to get your gout medication? Anywhere else this would be called double-dipping. It’s insider trading via Twinkie vice. It’s much like a creditor also investing in credit default swaps: the drugs stores benefit from poor health and the habits that get people there.

Would you feel comfortable at a hospital that also had a booming casket business? Convenience.

We are so used to this business model for pharmaceutical retail, we don’t even notice anymore. It doesn’t even occur to us that this is unscrupulous. Because when something is rampant and wide-spread it becomes normal. We get used to the neon sign flashing, we stop seeing it.

It’s also a metaphor for the health care in this country. The discussion over reform was hijacked by slogans about killing your elderly relatives instead of, well, health, and the caring of health. Our basic pharmacies have been buried by corporate interests spurned on by our own debilitating laziness and demand for kettle chips everywhere we go. So it becomes a chicken or the egg debate. Which came first? Did our health care get this way because we stopped caring about our health or did we stop caring about our health because health care got this way?

Either way we’ve been distracted by shiny objects whispering a promise of momentary happiness right near the shelves of birth control neighboring baby bottles (and in California, booze).

We look at our health care insurance like our doctors, our drug store like our pharmacist. They’re not the same thing. One is a health care provider, bound by ethical obligations. The other is a corporation who regardless of what the Supreme Court rules doesn’t have a conscience and its only obligation is to make money for its shareholders. But we trust a component (our doctor) and therefore give the entire system a pass.

This mistake is not making us healthier, just the “health-related” businesses.


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  1. collapse expand

    Interesting post. We waited almost 40 (!) minutes last night — at 1:55 a.m. (no line-up) at Walgreen’s to fill two ’scrips. Service?!

    I’m writing about retail in my book and find way too many contradictions — all in the name of mega-profit.

  2. collapse expand

    A prominent children’s hospital that shall remain nameless sports a fast-food restaurant in its lobby. I always thought that sent the wrong message.

  3. collapse expand

    Reminds me of the movie Sicko, when Michale Moore goes to the chemist to inquire about prescription costs. After getting the answer to his question of cost—all prescriptions—6 pounds 6 pence, Moore asks where the toilet paper and other retail products are located, the chemist tells him there are only medical supplies. Imagine that.

  4. collapse expand

    Very funny!

    Although I like being able to get a bottle of aspirin along with the Jim Beam…saves me a trip to a pharmacy!

  5. collapse expand

    Ignorant post. Do not insult the ethics of a pharmacist when your real problems lie with the corporations within which some of them work. A pharmacist and a doctor have the same level of ethics and compassion to provide quality health care, and pharmacists work in a plethora of settings outside major retail chains. Dozens of studies have shown the positive effects of pharmacists on the health care system. You are in the small minority by saying you do not trust a pharmacist because you associate it with a corporation. Perhaps your article should retitled “The profit-driven corporate policies of publicly traded drug stores and the manner in which their pharmacists are forced to follow company rules are totally unethical.” Pharmacists are consistently rated in Gallup polls as one of, if not the most, trusted professions in America.

  6. collapse expand

    So in summary you’re saying that we’re incapable of making the right choice?

    The sad thing is from a general social view, many don’t. But does that mean we should punish the store for applying a marketing/sales strategy? Shouldn’t we be punishing those who make bad choices instead. The thing is, I believe nearly all know better, but still don’t choose what’s best for them. Not that others should demand what’s best, but we should be responsible for our own actions; however society does not seem to apply that idea.

    Actually, your analogy is no different than blaming the gun of killing someone, not the person who shot it.

    Thinking about your scenario, perhaps the flowers were intended for significant others to pick up when they get cold medicine and a card. Seems logical. Perhaps it not all about you and your allergies.

    Don’t like how the drug store does business, don’t go there. Enough people don’t go, they’ll have to change their practices to what the consumer wants. That’s probably how they got to where they are now. Except you didn’t fill out the customer survey card. You’d be amazed how many companies rely on those. Ever wonder who’s filling those out? Perhaps the person who wanted their chips closer to the registers.

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