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Self-selection from across the Atlantic

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Since I am certain I am not the only pharmacist guilty of this, what some might call, nerdy habit, I thought I would share my thoughts on my tour of some community pharmacies in the US (it is not the main reason why I travelled there but I do have a habit of visiting pharmacies just to see how they differ to the ones in the UK whenever I am abroad).

As many would know, everything is bigger in the US. The dishes of food are bigger, shops are bigger and the choice of consumer items is wider. And pharmacy is no exception. I visited the large multiple chains (Walgreens, Duane Reade and CVS) mainly. As a tourist and consumer, I loved the fact that there is one of these large chain pharmacies on every street corner, and not because I need to use the pharmacy, but because I can buy just about anything in these stores. The Walgreens in Times Square, New York, has four stories and sells practically everything eg, food, grocery items, underwear and souvenirs!

As a pharmacist though, I could not help but think the pharmacy section in these stores feel somewhat lost among the ordinary items of commerce. 

I had a browse through the pharmacy sections to see what medicines are available for self-selection purchase. I did not find any codeine-containing products and pseudoephedrine products are on display as empty boxes (ie, the customer will have to buy the product from the pharmacy counter). So far, so good.

But then I came across a few items that made me felt uncomfortable:


1) Ibuprofen tablets in 1,000 packs. Does anyone really need to buy that much ibuprofen in one go? Thoughts of gastric bleeds, kidney damage and cardiovascular issues came to mindPack of 1,000 ibuprofen tablets 
2) 500 pack of paracetamol (acetaminophen) tablets. The maximum amount pharmacies are allowed to sell in the UK is 100 non-effervescent tablets, and most pharmacies tend not to sell more than 1 or 2 packs of 32 tablets.  Pack of 500 paracetamol tablets

3) Sedating antihistamine-containing
products available for self-selection in large quantities. I wonder if some people will misuse these products as a sleeping aid.









4) Antibiotic creams available for self-selection purchase. I would not expect your average Joe Bloggs to know when a topical antiobiotic is required. Does this not hamper our fight against antiobiotics resistance? 


As a consumer who is also a health professional, I would enjoy being able to purchase these items (and at such quantities) should I require them because I know enough about these products not to misuse them. 

But most people are not healthcare professionals or experts in medicines. So it concerns me that they are able to purchases some medicines in bulk or products that contain an antibiotic and run the risk of harming themselves.

Perhaps I might be over-reacting (maybe the pharmacy assistants are trained to give advice on certain products when a customer wants to purchase them at the counter). Certainly, from a consumer’s point of view, the US system is convenient but, for safety, the UK system (for now) seems superior.

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