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FROM THE ARCHIVES (DECEMBER 2016): The importance of independent pharmacies

December 20th, 2016 · No Comments

In this latest piece from our archives, we reprint a story from our May 2010 edition on Snowdon Pharmacy. We thought it would make an interesting companion piece as it illustrates just how much independent pharmacies do for our community, something that we, as an independent newspaper, know a little something about.

By Emina Gamulin

Snowdon Pharmacy (264 Bloor St. W.) has had many tough times in its 104-year history, but the changes the provincial government proposes to cut drug costs may be the biggest challenge the community institution has faced thus far.

“When some of the elderly get confused, rather than give them ten bottles and have them flush them down the toilet, or only take the pretty pink ones, we’ll make them a blister pack”— Anneke Allen, Snowdon Pharmacy

The government announced its plans that as of May 15, pharmacies will no longer be able to receive “professional allowances” from generic drug makers, which amount to $800 million a year for Ontario pharmacies.

Contrary to the notion that the rebates are kickbacks, Anneke Allen of Snowdon Pharmacy says they go directly back to the consumer. Every three months, she sends a report to the government proving that the money goes to patient care.

“When some of the elderly get confused, rather than give them ten bottles and have them flush them down the toilet, or only take the pretty pink ones, we’ll make them a blister pack,” said Allen, describing one free service.

She offers other examples. “If you just came from Shoppers and say ‘The pharmacist didn’t have time to talk to me but I need a little more information,’ he [Snowdon] doesn’t kick you out, he pulls out the book, hell, makes the photocopies for you because that’s what a pharmacist does — they care.”

The money has also gone towards things such as providing free deliveries, hiring students in the summer, holding customer appreciation days and flu shot days, amongst other things.

“Are you getting the gist of what this money did for pharmacies?” she asked, adding that all these things will go out the window if this becomes law.

“If you want to speak to your pharmacist I’m going to have to say to you, ‘It will be 45 minutes and it will be $25.’”

Allen said that the government led pharmacies along to believe that there would be some sort of a negotiation process.

“We were about two weeks into our campaign saying, ‘Give pharmacists a chance, don’t take away our money’ when the McGuinty government threw their hands up and said. ‘Please call off the dogs we’ll negotiate with you.’”

Next thing they knew, a 16-page report outlining the changes was announced.

“They haven’t seen the full impact of how pharmacies, pharmacists, employees, patients and anyone associated with a pharmacy will react to this.”

MPP Rosario Marchese (Trinity-Spadina) says that while drug costs have been skyrocketing in Ontario and they need to be reduced, he believes the government went about it in an entirely inappropriate way.

“I’m not sure they thought it through very well,” he said. “The problem with this measure is that it is sort of buried in the budget bill, so there are no hearings. People have 30 days to comment on it, but it’s not a reasonable debate where you allow people to come and give their personal stories, and then legislatures on the basis of this say ‘That’s interesting, we never thought of that, how do we deal with some of those problems that we didn’t anticipate?’

“We are worried about how many pharmacies might be affected. Because when you take $800 million to a billion dollars out of the system someone is going to be affected by it. Clearly the dispensing fees are going to have to go up, we know that. But will the dispensing fees first be enough for some pharmacists to recover those costs? We suspect in most cases it may not be.”

Snowdon Pharmacy invited Marchese to visit their store but he declined.

Allen says that the $1 increase to the current $6.99 that the government pays them will not be anywhere near enough to cover the difference, and in some cases doesn’t even cover their current drug costs, saying some products cost $10 that the government only gives them $8 for. “So we took a loss from the get go, that’s just one example.”

For now, Snowdon is going to try to keep all their staff but may have to cut hours. Allen is busy setting up a system to show customers exactly what they will have to pay extra for if the changes pass as planned.

Larger pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart have already started cutting pharmacy hours and introducing fees for deliveries.

On April 21, pharmacists in white lab coats came in droves to Queen’s Park to protest the proposed cuts. Health Critic Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax) brought forth a motion to protect seniors from the increased costs and reduced services that may result from the cuts that day. It was voted down.

When asked about the possibility of Snowdon having to close because of this, Allen replied, “That’s a hard one to say. We’re going to fight the fight.

“As a community pharmacy in this community they fought long and hard to keep it here, so we are going to fight to stay here for them.”


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