Local News

Pharmacies Face Dangerous Trend, Struggle To Keep Up With Prescription Demand

Posted May 19, 2003 10:28 a.m. EDT

— Times are changing at local drug stores. The signs might be a longer-than-normal wait, or not being able to get a pharmacist's attention behind the counter.

It's not that they're inefficient. They may just be too busy -- due to what's becoming a dangerous trend in the industry.

It's getting harder for them to do their jobs and not because they can't do it. Pharmacies are being outnumbered by a society that's living longer and consuming more prescription drugs.

At the same time, pharmacy students are finding other things to do with their degree. The experts say that, sooner or later, something has to give.

Pharmacist Ouita Davis is living her dream. She loves her work, and she's following in her father's footsteps.

"I would hope he would say how proud he was of me," Davis said.

Davis' father died before the opportunities came her way. He might be surprised at how much heavier her workload is than the one he carried.

From 1990 to 2000, the state of North Carolina saw a 50-percent increase in prescription-drug volume, while the number of retail pharmacies


by 10 percent.

According to David Work of the

North Carolina Board of Pharmacy,

pharmacists are working harder than before, and that could put the public at risk.

"We had over 45 reports of deaths due to drugs dispensed through pharmacies last year," Work said. "Mistake or no mistake."

Eleven-year-old Marissa Headen of Siler City died in 2000 after taking the powerful pain killer Oxycodone following a tonsillectomy. Her mother filed suit against the doctor for prescribing a medication the manufacturer says should not be given to children.

She's also suing the owner of Family Pharmacy in Siler City for not catching the alleged mistake. The suit claims the pharmacist was filling anywhere from 350 to 700 prescriptions per day. If true, it


exceeds the Pharmacy Board's recommendations.

"When it gets over 150 scrips per pharmacist per day, that's when you need to really start being careful about dispensing errors," Work said. "Because dispensing errors are part of the human condition. They will happen."

The lawyer representing the pharmacist said her client did nothing wrong.

The case has yet to go to trial. But, no matter how it comes out, it underscores a potential problem with an over-burdened profession.

"When I left retail, it was because I was overworked," pharmacist Michelle Williams said. "I had three weeks of vacation, couldn't get it off. And there was basically nobody to fill in for me."

While some pharmacists are giving up on retail, many pharmacy students are choosing to work outside the corner drug store.

"One day, I might end up working in community pharmacy," said Shannon Howarth, a pharmacy student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "But I want to start in a hospital, I think."

Said UNC pharmacy student Jack Temple: "When you graduate with a pharmacy degree, people don't think of pharmacy administration."

UNC pharmacy student Sara Ford said she sees herself working in a clinic.

"In an ambulatory care environment, where patients come in, they see their physician," Ford said. "If they have problems with their drug therapy, they come see me."

Three students, three careers that are


behind the pharmacy counter. Nearly 50 percent of UNC pharmacy students make the same choice.

Nevertheless, Davis said this is the only career for her, and she has no misgivings about her choice.

"You do what you love to do," she said.

"Now, that's not to say I love every day and that I really enjoy coming to work every single day. But, for the most part, the joy and the love of what I do far outweighs the bad days."

Davis said she hopes to one day dispel the myth that a pharmacist's role is strictly filling prescriptions. She said the financial rewards are nice, but being able to help people is the bigger payoff.

It may take more pharmacists like Davis to convince more young students to try the corner drug store, where the need is so great.