Topics: Advocacy, Legislative, News, Pharmacy, Safe Prescriptions

Opinion: Public health compromised when pharmacists work solo

They are stretched giving flu shots, checking for drug interactions, answering phones and selling candy bars.

By Jim Araby

A rash of drugstore robberies across the Bay Area — from Concord to Menlo Park and points in between — has pharmacists terrified.  Anyone who has filled a prescription at a retail store knows that pharmacy counters are understaffed. Certainly thieves aiming to sell prescriptions on the black market know.

The robberies in the last few months have not only put a spotlight on the obvious safety risk pharmacists face as they work alone for hours on end, but they also expose a larger threat to the public.  When pharmacists are stretched between checking for drug interactions, answering telephones and ringing up candy bars, their role as stewards of public health is compromised.

It’s time for California to get serious about pharmacy safety. SB 1442 is new legislation that would protect the public by ensuring pharmacists aren’t working alone.  At the same time, it delivers safety to pharmacists who have become targets because they work alone. It empowers them to use their talent and training to their full potential to help Californians stay healthy.

Coping with a massive shortfall in access to primary-care doctors, the state has appropriately looked to highly trained pharmacists to take on new healthcare roles. Pharmacists have willingly embraced opportunities to expand their public service, pursuing additional education to administer life-saving flu vaccines, spot the first warning signs of deadly opioid addiction, and deliver contraception, hormone therapy and tobacco cessation products. Pharmacists are committed to Californians’ health.

Unfortunately, their ability to focus on patient needs is compromised by the pressure-cooker conditions created by cost-cutting grocers.  In a survey of California pharmacists represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, 83 percent reported they had to leave prescriptions unfilled when staffing the pharmacy alone because other store duties prevented them from being able to call doctors’ offices to verify prescriptions.  Seventy percent reported not being able to spend enough time checking for warning signs of opiate abuse.

The short-staffing of retail pharmacies is just plain dangerous. Helping the public stay healthy and safe is job number one for California’s pharmacists and that’s why their union, the UFCW, is fighting for SB 1442, legislation authored by state Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco.  By requiring pharmacies to have necessary support staff, pharmacists can focus on preventing medication errors and drug interactions. It means pharmacists can take the time to answer consumers’ questions, maybe even the questions that save lives.

Pharmacists come into work every day aiming to help their patients — retail customers — get healthy.  Now they need to ensure they can focus on their jobs, rather than being targets of gun-wielding thieves or making customers wait because they’re doing the job of three people behind the retail counter.

Jim Araby is executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council.

Read more at the East Bay Times: