June 24, 2005
The pharmacist farce
I’ve written a couple of times about wingnut pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control—in at least one case causing a woman to have an abortion. Avedon points out that it’s not just contraceptives:
Now, however, many pharmacists have extended their objections to include painkillers and psychotropic drugs. In some situations pharmacists are also refusing to return the prescriptions thereby preventing patients from turning to other pharmacists.
More details from Newsinferno:
If you think this can’t happen, think again. This rather improbable sounding scenario is happening every day in pharmacies across the country with respect to a growing number of important medications like painkillers, Emergency Contraceptive (EC) pills, psychotropic drugs, and birth control pills.
Pharmacists (and the American Pharmacists Association) call it conscience-based refusal; the American Medical Association (AMA) sees it as a wrongful denial of a patient’s access to legally prescribed therapy and medical care.
To its credit, the AMA is trying to prevent hate-group pharmacists from playing God:
At its annual meeting on Monday, the AMA voted to use its influence to see that such “conscientious refusals” do not deny patients’ of needed medical treatment by supporting legislation that would require pharmacists to fill any valid prescription or to refer such patients to another pharmacy that will. The AMA will also press for amendments to existing state laws to allow physicians to dispense medications when there is “no willing pharmacist available within a 30 mile radius.”
The American Pharmacists Association, by contrast, appears to be on the side of the hate groups—and is likely (and deservedly) going to find itself on the losing side of many lawsuits.
The APA needs to get a couple of things clear. The role of a pharmacist is to dispense—accurately—any medication prescribed by a licensed physician, and if necessary advise me on how to use that medication. That’s it. Nothing else. Zip. Once written, the prescription belongs to me, so if a pharmacist refuses to return an unfilled one, they are stealing my property. That’s a crime, and combined with the nasty little religious-discrimination ingredient, it becomes a hate crime.
Fortunately, drugstore pharmacists are a dying breed. To cut costs, more and more U.S. healthcare providers are requiring patients to have routine prescriptions (i.e., like contraceptives and drugs used to treat chronic pain) filled via large mail-order drug dispensers such as Medco. Many federally and state-funded healthcare programs will, for the most part, go mail-order too.
This won’t solve the problem of filling one-off prescriptions such as morning-after birth control—for that, patient-rights groups will have to resort to the courts. But it will make pharmacists increasingly dispensable—and the religious right are going to find it much harder to infiltrate companies like Medco than the local Walgreens.
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I've been tracking this issue through the blogosphere and have not been able to find any reports of actual instances where a pharmacist refuses to dispense pain or psychotropic meds for reasons of conscience.
I have certainly heard about pharmacists refusing such prescriptions because they suspect the patients are "doc shopping" to get extra pain meds to feed an addiction or for resale. This is not the same as a conscientious refusal to fill a PCB prescription, this is a pharmacist trying to do her job (and possibly thwart a criminal action).
Posted by: Doctor Science at July 4, 2005 11:56 AM