Survey finds one-third of Australian pharmacists are recommending unproven therapies

From The Guardian:

Nearly one third of pharmacists are recommending complementary and alternative medicines with little-to-no evidence for their efficacy, including useless homeopathic products and potentially harmful herbal products.

The finding comes from a Choice survey of 240 pharmacies including Priceline, Chemist Warehouse and Terry White. Mystery shoppers were sent in to speak to a pharmacist at the prescription dispensing counter and ask for advice about feeling stressed.

Three per cent of the pharmacists recommended homeopathic products, despite a comprehensive review of all existing studies on homeopathy finding that there is no evidence they work in treating any condition.

Twenty-six percent recommended Bach flower remedies to shoppers, homeopathic solutions of alcohol and water containing diluted flower essences. The solution was invened by a British homeopath, Edward Bach, who claimed to have a psychic connection to plants. A comprehensive review of all existing studies on Bach flower solutions found no difference between the remedies and placebos.

The Choice survey also found products containing a B group vitamin complex were recommended by pharmacists for stress in 46% of cases. Other frequently recommended products were St John’s wort and valerian. There is no good evidence that these products reduce stress.

A more detailed summary, from CHOICE, is here.

 

Concerning Signals in Pharmacy Students’ Attitudes About Complementary and Alternative Medicine

pharmacy students
While I’m now two full decades out of pharmacy school, I am occasionally invited to return to give a lecture or facilitate a workshop. Pharmacy education has changed a lot since the 1990’s. For me, pharmacy was a Bachelor’s degree program you started right out of high school. Today, students must have a few years of university completed before they can apply (some already have one degree), and the more common degree granted is doctorate-level, the Pharm.D. The clinical training has been bulked up and the practical training is much more rigorous. I see all this as positive change, as the practice of pharmacy has changed along with the education standard. The era of the “count, pour, lick and stick” pharmacist is disappearing as these tasks are automated or delegated to others. Today’s pharmacist has the opportunity to deliver care in different ways, including new roles like vaccine provider, and medication review/drug therapy optimizer. Many find positions that allow them to leverage their drug-related expertise to other areas of the healthcare system.

With pharmacists’ knowledge of drug products it should not be a surprise that they are consulted widely for advice by patients as well as other health professionals. Public surveys on trust show pharmacists lead other health professionals on this measure. It should also not be a surprise that pharmacists can be quite influential in shaping drug use, particularly when it comes to advice about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), especially when it is used with conventional, science-based drug treatments. After all, drug stores are becoming (to my professional embarrassment) purveyors of all forms of CAM, ranging from homeopathic “treatments” through aisles of herbal remedies, vitamins, and other supplements. One pharmacy I used to work at sold copper bracelets, magnets, salt lamps, ear candles, homeopathic “first aid” kits, and detox packages that were purported to “balance” your pH. If there was a plausibility limit to what this pharmacy would sell, I never saw it reached. I gave the best science-based advice I could, but eventually left due to my concerns about what was on the shelves. But my time in that setting showed me the opportunity to improve care: the pharmacist is well positioned to advise on the evidence for or against any particular treatment, as well as explain the potential risks with combining CAM with evidence-based treatment approaches.

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