Wintertime is always high time for seasonal colds. But, flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are all poised to make an appearance this holiday season with the word “tripledemic” creeping into the media coverage. Whether treatment for you turns out to be antibiotics, OTC medicines, allowing things to “run its course,” a homemade hot toddy, zinc, vitamin C, or other immune supporting supplements, each of these therapies need something vital. Pharmacies. But pharmacies are not without their own set of drama and media coverage these days. While dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure disease, supplements may provide an edge and help shorten the duration of colds and the flu. Yet, access to pharmacies is in trouble on multiple fronts this winter, and with it, so is the potential access to dietary supplements. Here is what you need to know:
- Pharmacists are going on strike. Just last month, Rite Aid, CVS, and Walgreens, all experienced pharmacist strikes. While the pharmacists don’t have a union, pharmacists have refused to go to work or have walked off the job until pharmacies hire more staff members to keep patients safe and make working conditions better. A survey reported that 74% of nearly 5,000 pharmacy workers said they did not have enough time to safely perform nonclinical work, and 75% said there were not enough other staff, like techs and nurses, to safely perform clinical work. To date, the matter hasn’t been resolved.
- We’ve just been through the pharmacy era of ‘mergers & acquisitions’. In case you haven’t noticed, CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid have been going through their own evolutions, including consolidation with leading grocery retailers, broadening their respective focus to include health care or globalization. Independent of the strategy, it is anticipated that local pharmacies are likely going to continue to feel the squeeze as show in #3
- Increase in pharmacy deserts. Over the past several years, major pharmacies have shuttered over 1,500 stores. The reason? For starters, competition and the crushing aftermath of the opioid lawsuits. To make matters worse, low income communities are the first to lose pharmacies. It’s not just low-income communities that are at risk, it’s rural communities as well. From 2003 to 2018, 1,231 of the nation’s 7,624 independent rural pharmacies closed, leaving 630 communities with no independent or chain retail drugstore. Public health professionals are already postulating on the long term repercussions. People living in pharmacy deserts are more likely to stop taking their medication, older adults especially. Pharmacy deserts are also associated with lower COVID vaccination rates, putting these underserved communities (as well as the rest of us) at even greater risk.
- Online is not always the best solution. Buying dietary supplements online has also faced its fair share of media coverage. Expired and counterfeit food and supplements have been found on some of America’s leading online retailers. Amazon.com even launched Project Zero in an attempt to identify and remove counterfeits and restore consumer confidence.
What’s a concerned consumer to do?
- Support your local retailer. Whether it’s your local pharmacy, or even your local chain grocery store with a pharmacy department, where possible, consider ditching the online-pharmacy middleman and supporting local businesses. Independent pharmacists routinely identify those middle manager companies as the leading cause of their troubles. This helps boost your local economy, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability.
- Go direct to the source. When it comes to dietary supplements and online retailers, they too have not been within drama and headlines. Going directly to brand websites can be a great way to support brands directly and make sure that you are actually getting what you are paying for.
Take a more active role in the pharmacy desert solution by supporting your local pharmacy. Check out resources and social services available within your local community– some communities offer carpool services and arrange pick ups, especially for the elderly. Contact your local representatives and voice your concern about the current state of local pharmacies and the short and long term impact it can have on public health. Call on them to raise the alarm and promote better access to healthcare and well-being services.
When it comes to this flu and cold season and supporting your local drug stores and pharmacies, stay safe out there.