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A call from a Pharmacist!

There was a phone message on our office line from, “Tim Towers” a local pharmacist.  Finally someone who cares about me!  Except my pharmacist isn’t named Tim.  So he’s not my local pharmacist.  But he explains that he’s lived in the community and serviced it for 18 years. His message is a request to my local politician to tell him not to cut ‘front line health care.’  (Thank goodness he tells me who my local politician is, cause I’m so out of it, I don’t know.) I assume this has to do with the big controversy in this province about Pharmacists and generic medications.  Since medication costs and getting the right medication affects us all, I’m going to take the time in the next few days to find out what’s going. I’ll Blog about it on the weekend. While generic medication and drug costs hot issues here, they’re big issues everywhere. In the meantime, if someone wants to bring us up to speed, please explain what’s going on.  I know it has something to do with Pharmacists substituting generic medications and somehow benefiting from it, but that it doesn’t apply to all Pharmacists. And that at least one of the big Pharmacy Chains is saying they will be forced to cut their hours dramatically, no longer open till midnight, and so on, because of lost profits. While a Grocery Chain is saying they will extend their hours and open more Pharmacies in their stores. So I’m not sure why generic medications, which should cost less, lead to lower profits? Thanks.
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  1. Tim May 6, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    This is all about money (surprise) and Tim (no relation) (http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/tim-towers/12/a67/86 http://www.opatoday.com/boardofdirectors.asp) is grumpy because we will be giving less of it to him.
    Currently, pharmacies get a payment, officially called a “professional allowance” from the generic drug manufacturers for stocking their products. Anywhere else this would be called a kickback and would be illegal but this was sanctioned by the province in 2006. The drug companies aren’t stupid of course; the money that they give to the pharmacies is recovered in higher prices. The pharmacies like this because their markups are rather small and one way they can get more from us is to mark up the higher wholesale prices.
    The province (http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/programs/drugreforms/prof_allowances.aspx) has decided that they are tired of paying the highest generic drug prices on the continent and are terminating the current scheme while bumping up other ways for the pharmacies to get money such as dispensing fees.
    I don’t have much sympathy for the big chains but it’s not clear to me whether the small places, like the one I like to visit, are going to be in financial trouble. Unfortunately most of the commentary from the drug lobby has been as vitriolic and biased as the stuff that comes from Tim Powers (interesting coincidence and also no relation) in Stephen Harper’s office, making it hard to figure out what will happen.
    Maybe a nice pharmacist could add some more to this.

  2. Larynxa May 6, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    It’s essentially the same as the old Payola scandal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payola), in which record companies bribed radio stations & DJs to get airplay.
    For many years, the generic drug companies have been paying huge “product placement fees” to pharmacies, to get them to stock their products. The drug companies have to recover that money somehow, so they pass the cost along to the consumer, by including it in the price of the medication. As a result, a drug which costs, say, 50 cents a pill in other countries, costs $1.25 a pill here. And that’s costing consumers a fortune, whether directly (if they pay for their own prescriptions) or indirectly (since it’s tax dollars that pay for the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, AKA Trillium, which only covers generic versions of drugs which are available in both branded and generic versions).
    Now that the Ontario government is working to pass legislation to end this practice of what is nothing less than commercial bribery, the big drug store chains aren’t happy that they’re suddenly going to lose those millions & millions of dollars from all those kickbacks. So they’ve started a very aggressive “pissing contest”, in which they’re cutting their hours of operation in select stores (as an example of what they swear will happen if the kickbacks are ended), threatening to lay off pharmacists, and threatening that pharmacists will not be available for patient counselling and questions.
    And they’re contacting “interested parties” (i.e., organizations devoted to medical issues), with letters and phone messages like the one from “Tim Towers”, urging those parties to tell the government not to cut “front line health care”. It’s all BS, sponsored by the big drugstore chains like Shoppers Drug Mart, Pharma Plus, Rexall, etc., in a desperate and greedy attempt to stop the government from ending their stream of payola.
    Important fact #1: The big drugstore chains devote less than 10% of their floor space to the pharmacy counter, and that they hide that counter way at the back of the store, so you have to go through all the more profitable sections (beauty, grocery, seasonal merchandise). It’s the pharmacy counter that gets people into the store, but it’s all the impulse buying on the way to it that makes 90% of the store’s profits.
    Important fact #2: Most of the “patient counselling and questions” are in the form of the information sheets that are automatically printed out from the computer when a prescription is filled. Any actual one-on-one counselling usually lasts less than 2 minutes.
    Important fact #3: Most pharmacies also charge a dispensing fee, which can be as high as $12, even though it takes less than 3 minutes to actually fill a prescription. At the pharmacy counter, you’ll see a sign stating the fee, and explaining that the fee is for “professional expertise and advice”. In other words, the dispensing fee pays for the time it takes the pharmacist to fill the prescription and answer your questions.
    Important fact #4: According to LInkedIn, Tim Towers is the Director of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, and the Vice-Chair of the National Advisory Board at Drug Trading (part of the Katz Group, which owns Rexall, Pharma Plus, and Guardian drugstores). He is also the owner of Keene Guardian Pharmacy (located in Clarkson). So, although he’s technically “your local pharmacist”, he’s actually one of the top men at two of the big organizations who are fighting to hang on to their payola.
    Given the facts, I think you’ll see that this is all just a scam on the part of the big drugstore chains and the Pharmacists Association. They’re claiming that this is all to protect the public. What it’s really trying to protect is those millions of dollars in payola they’re collecting from generic drug companies and, ultimately, from the public.
    As for me, I’m boycotting all big drugstore chains. I now get my prescriptions filled at the little independent pharmacy in my local supermarket. That’s also where I get all my vitamins, beauty aids, etc. And my groceries. Basically, everything I used to buy from Shoppers Drug Mart or Pharma Plus. And I’m getting them way cheaper, too. The only time I go into Shoppers Drug Mart is to use the post office, and I don’t buy anything else while I’m in there.
    I know of other people who are doing the same thing. If the big drugstores just think of us as sheeple to be fleeced, then they can go flock themselves.

  3. Larynxa May 6, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    The correct link for Payola is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payola

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