Pharmacists are busy positioning themselves as the frontline agents of primary care at a time when health reform is widely expected to shoot primary care to new prominence.

But do pharmacists deserve to be taken seriously as health professionals when so many are little better than quacks (officially defined as those who deliberately promote dodgy therapies or products)?

Walk into any pharmacy and you will undoubtedly find shelves bulging with “natural” remedies that claim to treat many health conditions.

One of Australia’s largest sponsors of complementary medicine recently suggested that pharmacists should “capitalize on consumer sentiment” by expanding shelf space for “alternative” therapies.

With large mark-ups on these products, and with the majority of pharmacy brand names owned by two multinational pharmaceutical giants, these scientifically trained professionals remain silent to the sounds of cash registers filling from the sales of these usually ineffective non-prescription drugs.

The contempt that many medicos feel for pharmacists grows daily as their patients’ health is compromised by the diagnostics of Iridology and Live Blood Analysis that some pharmacists actively promote.

Patients are swallowing supplements by the handful because they believe that they are safe and work just because they are natural.

They are leaving their doctors in droves to go to alternative therapists — after all, they have seen them working in pharmacies.

Off–the-shelf treatments for balancing mythical life-force energy supposedly treat illnesses or emotional problems. These Ear Candles, Homeopathy and other scientifically flawed therapies silently and relentlessly creep into homes, advertised under the banner of high profile pharmacy chains, promoted on websites and in free community newspapers.

Pharmacists are one of the most trusted health-care professionals, but in the one place patients should feel safe from exploitation, this trust is abused when they hire poorly trained alternative therapists who offer hope without proof.

They also empty the wallets of our most vulnerable people, sometimes even compromising their treatments by selling products with little or no information on efficacy, dosage or possible adverse reactions to their medications.

The National Prescribing Service has put considerable effort into identifying resources for all health care practitioners to identify the ‘bottom line’ on traditional treatments, but this information is not offered to consumers.

Research now shows that most of these remedies are expensive placebos — and sharing that knowledge that wouldn’t be good for business.

By ignoring evidence-based medicine and promoting scientific nonsense, our pharmacies are clearly putting profit over patient’s well-being.

As pharmacies can only be owned by pharmacists, and by implication they endorse what they sell, perhaps that answers the question as to whether pharmacists are health professionals or quacks.

Loretta Marron, a science graduate with a business background, was Australian Skeptic of the Year for 2007. She writes for ‘Information to Pharmacists‘ and edits the website

Peter Fray

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