Pharmacists Can Now Prescribe Some Drugs But Takers Are Few
MIAMI (AP) _ A new law allowing pharmacists to dispense certain drugs without a prescription has been largely ignored during its first two months on the books, but has confused some customers who believe they have access to a wide range of medicine previously kept behind the counter.
″It wasn’t what everybody expected, that everyone would go rushing in asking for medication,″ said Jorge Monteagudo, owner of Joe’s Pharmacy in southwest Miami. ″It hasn’t happened.″
Under the Pharmacy Prescribing Law, the first of its kind in the nation, pharmacists can dispense a variety of drugs - including antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants, shampoo for head lice and fluoride products to prevent tooth decay - that previously could be sold only with a doctor’s prescription.
Some drug store chains have made it policy not to allow their pharmacists to prescribe any drugs because of potential liability problems while others have left it to their employees to decide.
Eckerd Drug Co., the state’s largest drug chain with 426 outlets throughout Florida, allows pharmacists to prescribe drugs based on their professional judgment, said Juan Mora, pharmacy operations manager for South Florida.
Mora said the biggest problem now is educating customers about the law.
″They think it’s carte blanche - they can ask for anything,″ he said.
Supporters of the law said it would be a boon for rural pockets of Florida where doctors are few. They also saw it as a way poor customers could avoid expensive doctor visits for minor ailments.
In Greenville, about 50 miles east of Tallahassee, many of the 5,000 or so residents are poor, said Sam R. Hendley, the Greenville Drug Co. pharmacist.
But the kinds of drugs pharmacists can sell without a doctor’s prescription are not worth the extra paperwork required of customers, such as filling out a complete medical history before receiving medication, Hendley said.
Besides, state officials have yet to send him the appropriate forms or contact him about the law’s specifics, he said.
″They made a lot of hullabaloo over nothing,″ Hendley said of lobbyists and doctors who clashed in the state capital over the merits of the plan.
Hendley said the law lost a lot of its potential impact by including drugs that aren’t substantially stronger than those already available over the counter, a sentiment echoed by many pharmacists.
″If the problem is so severe an over-the-counter medication, in my opinion, is not warranted, you should see a doctor. I feel the patient’s health is more valuable than my pocketbook,″ Hendley said.
Before the law was passed, doctors said diagnosing patients based on symptoms rather than a physical examination could pose a medical threat.
Dr. Luis M. Perez, president of the Florida Medical Association, said doctors may soon start seeing patients treated under the new law that are in the advanced stages of an illness. Perez said someone with a serious cough, for example, could have tuberculosis.
Florida licenses and regulates pharmacists but does not monitor how many are using the law, said Pat Robinson, spokeswoman for the Department of Professional Regulation. The agency knows of no case of misdiagnosis, she added.
″There have been no complaints regarding the pharmacists prescribing,″ Ms. Robinson said.
Jerry Park, a pharmacist for Park Drugs in Okeechobee, a South Florida farm town, wished customers would inquire about the law.
″It hasn’t affected us at all,″ Park said. ″We’ve had very, very little response. There was more response before the law was passed than after.″
Pharmacist Guy Wheeler of Family Drugs in North Miami Beach said he hasn’t decided whether to use the law, but he isn’t worried about it.
″I still have some reservations about it. It’s something that’s there and it can be utilized in certain areas,″ Wheeler said. ″I don’t think it’ll be a big thing.″