Strong criticism has greeted a deal agreed by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to promote dietary supplements with prescription drugs.
From next month, the Guild will recommend a range of supplements made by leading Australian natural health firm Blackmores to patients when they fill prescriptions for antibiotics, blood pressure drugs, cholesterol-lowerers and proton pump inhibitors. As the prescription is filled, the Guild's computer system will prompt the pharmacist, reminding them to tell the patient that a particular Blackmore's supplement could help deal with possible side effects of the prescribed drug.
Blackmores' chief executive, Christine Holgate, provoked angry criticism when she told Pharmacy News that the deal meant that pharmacies could provide the "Coke and fries" with prescription drugs, giving them "a new and important revenue stream."
Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Steve Hambleton described the deal as outrageous. He said he knew of no solid evidence to support combining prescription drugs with dietary supplements and warned of the potential for confusing patients.
"I think the evidence for Coke and fries is about the same as the evidence for these products," added Dr Hambleton.
Carol Benneftt, chief executive of the Consumers' Health Forum of Australia, said the agreement was unethical and told consumers to ask the pharmacist for evidence for the products if they were recommended, and to report pharmacists to their professional organisation if they believed they were being sold a product unnecessarily.
However, the Guild's present, Kos Sclavos has reportedly rejected claims of commercial motivation and stating that he was satisfied Blackmores had good evidence for pharmacists to recommend use of their products.
Writing in Pharmacy News, Mr Sclavos said he was "personally thrilled" to assist in the launch of the first pharmacy-only range of complementary medicines in Australia formulated for pharmacist recommendation with key prescribed medicines.
This is also a "world first for IT-enabled, software-promoted pharmacy sector messages to facilitate targeted recommendations to patients," he said, adding that the deal also represents a huge opportunity for the male market, given that men dislike going to the doctor.
Ms Holgate estimated that the new agreement will apply to more than 58 million prescriptions a year, or over a third of the 183.9 million prescriptions dispensed through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in 2010.
The Guild represents 94% of Australia's 5,200 pharmacies. Its computer system currently prompts pharmacists to alert them to potential compliance or interaction problems when dispensing a prescription.