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4 posts from November 2011

11/28/2011

Healthy Holiday Gifts & Tips

We want to encourage physical activity in our kids as well as within each other, but how do we do that without being offensive or downright boring? Give a gym membership? Never! A workout video? Zzzzz…try something new! But how much will this cost?

Worried about the budget? No need! Here is a list of holiday gifts to keep everyone happy & active ranging from the frugal to the frivolous:

• Jump Rope
• Sidewalk Chalk for Hopscotch (or use carpet pieces for inside hopscotch!)
• Twister
• T-ball starter set with net
• Pogo stick
• Scooter
• Bike
• Roller Blades
• Soccer Ball
• Football
• Basketball
• Volleyball
• Baseball, bat & glove
• Ice Skates
• Sled
• Skateboard
• Slide
• Climber
• Mini trampoline with handlebar
• Snowboard
• Golf clubs
• Snowshoes
• Kinect for Xbox 360
• Bounce House
• Swing Set

Parents don’t be afraid to join in the fun! You and your children will be getting exercise, having fun and making memories – much more long lasting than another doll or video game. Take my daughter’s 70 year-old grandmother who does not hesitate to jump into the bounce house or go sledding with all of the kids. I am 41 years old and I have a Razor Scooter to keep up with my child’s own scooter. This year amidst the office party, the stuffy holiday gathering, the prim and properness of it all – have fun. Be active. Make a memory with those closest to you!

And whenever you start to feel an activity is a little too “silly” to engage in with your kids remember this…
“That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old. They patronize; they treat children as inferiors.” - Walt Disney

This year celebrate the memories not the materials.

11/23/2011

Chain Pharmacy CEOs Must Stop the Sale of Cigarettes!

By Dr. Daniel A. Hussar who is the Remington Professor of Pharmacy at University of the Sciences' Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. He serves as the author and editor of The Pharmacist Activist newsletter (http://www.pharmacistactivist.com) from which this editorial was taken.

The potential consequences of smoking cigarettes are well known but the tobacco-related carnage continues unabated within our society. On November 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a press release that includes the following observations and statistics:

March, 2010 issue of The Pharmacist Activist. Continuing communications have identified a number of what I consider to be advantageous reasons for the particular chain to discontinue the sale of tobacco products. However, to date, my efforts have not been successful. None of these companies have changed their policies, and none of the CEOs has been willing to meet with me. In fact, there has been turnover in the executive ranks of each of these four companies since I began communicating with them, with the result that there have now been eight CEOs who have either not responded to me at all or have declined to meet with me in a written response. The highest executive officer currently serving at each of these companies is identified below:

"Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease, including cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung disease, in the United States. Smoking and exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke kill an estimated 443,000 Americans each year. For every 1 smoking-related death, another 20 people live with a smoking-related disease….Approximately 26 percent of heart attacks and 12-19 percent of strokes are attributable to smoking."


It has seemed almost impossible to capture or describe the impact of these consequences in a manner that motivates sustained action that will substantially reduce disease and deaths attributed to smoking. Every year statistics similar to those above are communicated, but ignored or quickly forgotten by most. Some years ago I was a participant in a meeting on tobacco-related problems in which a physician speaker made the following statement:

"The tobacco industry should be treated as a criminal enterprise that thrives on addiction and murder."


Some find it convenient to ignore this observation because it is legal to produce and sell tobacco products. However, many years later I remember this statement verbatim because of its boldness in identifying the addiction and other destructive health consequences that result from using tobacco products. Although some may take exception to an allegation of "murder," there can be no debate that death is a consequence. The statement serves as a reminder for me to persist in efforts to discourage the use of tobacco products and to discontinue their sale in pharmacies.

Cigarettes in pharmacies

Except in San Francisco, Boston, and several other cities that have taken actions to prohibit such sales, it is legal to sell cigarettes in pharmacies. However, this does not mean that selling cigarettes in pharmacies is the right thing to do and I strongly contend that such sales are contradictory to the role of pharmacists as health professionals and providers of medications and information that promote and improve the health of patients and communities. Indeed, it is hypocritical to promote such a message at the same time that products that can cause harm and death can be purchased just steps from the prescription counter.

Most independent pharmacies do not sell cigarettes whereas most chain pharmacies do. Accordingly my efforts to have the sales of cigarettes discontinued have primarily been directed to chain pharmacies. In speaking with numerous chain pharmacists and other employees, I found that the vast majority agreed with my concerns but felt they have no authority or influence with respect to this decision. They identified the CEO of their company as the only individual with the authority to make a decision to discontinue the sales of cigarettes. It was at this point that I decided that my efforts should be directed to meeting personally with the CEOs of four of the largest chains that sell tobacco products - CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart. Just these four companies operate more than 20,000 pharmacies and, therefore, account for a large percentage of the tobacco sales in the United States, as well as a corresponding percentage of the victims of resultant disease and death.

Communications with chain CEOs

My first communication with the CEOs of these four chains encouraged them to be a leader among chain pharmacies in discontinuing the sale of tobacco products, and also requested the opportunity to meet with them. My experiences in communicating with these four chains are described in more detail in the

CVS - Mr. Larry Merlo
Rite Aid - Mr. John Standley
Walgreens - Mr. Gregory Wasson
Walmart - Mr. Mike Duke


My lack of success in what I have been attempting to accomplish could be attributed to naivety in anticipating affirmative responses to what I considered to be appropriate requests, or written off as an exercise in futility. However, I can't ignore the realization that hundreds of thousands of our family members and neighbors are dying every year from the consequences of smoking cigarettes. It is no consolation to hear that they made the choice to smoke or if they couldn't buy their cigarettes in pharmacies that they would buy them somewhere else. Indeed, most smokers have tried on multiple occasions to stop but the addiction to nicotine that has been described as "second to no other" is so powerful that they have not been successful in quitting.

Smoking kills! Certain pharmacies have enabled and even promoted the purchase of these products that are known to cause addiction, disease, and death. Most importantly, this is a potentially deadly disservice to their customers. It also is a betrayal of the role of the profession of pharmacy as an advocate for wellness and restoration and improvement of health. As noted above, there is only one individual at CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart who has the authority to make a decision that his company will no longer sell cigarettes. I urge these individuals to make this decision and to be leaders among chain pharmacies in providing an example that I am confident other pharmacies that sell tobacco products will follow. If, however, they continue to permit their companies to sell these products, they, at the very least, are contributors to the sequence of events that, for many, will be the cause of death. They will become known as MERCHANTS OF DEATH.

11/18/2011

USciences marketing department wins awards

Marcom awardUSciences marketing department is proud to announce that we have won two Platinum and two Gold Awards in the MarCom 2011 Competition.  Two of the awards were received for work that the marketing department did solo:

–        Platinum: 2011-12 Roadmap Marketing Plan

–        Gold: The Bulletin, tradition and digital

And two of the awards were received for work that marketing launched, powered by vendor-partner, The Star Group. http://www.stargroup1.com/

–        Gold: Outcomes Survey & PR Effort

–        Platinum: Channel One TV Spot

“MarCom Awards is an international creative competition that recognizes outstanding achievement by marketing and communications professionals. Award entries came from corporate marketing and communication departments, ad agencies, design studios, production companies and freelancers. Over 6,000 entries from throughout the United States, Canada and several other countries were submitted for the 2011 competition.”

First and foremost, USciences marketing department works for results to increase awareness and positive perception; to drive enrollment and support fundraising; however, we are pleased to be recognized through these awards and by industry professionals for the efforts.

“The Platinum and the Gold Awards are presented to entries which exceed high standards of the industry norm. Approximately 18 percent of the entries were Platinum and were Gold Winners. A complete list of Winners can be found on the MarCom Awards website at www.marcomawards.com.”

 

 

11/02/2011

Deception and Hypocrisy from Mail-order Pharmacies

By Dr. Daniel A. Hussar who is the Remington Professor of Pharmacy at University of the Sciences' Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. He serves as the author and editor of The Pharmacist Activist newsletter (http://www.pharmacistactivist.com) from which this editorial was taken.

Having devoted two recent editorials to the topic of mail-order pharmacies (please see the May and July issues of The Pharmacist Activist), I would much prefer to now address other subjects. However, recent comments by the CEOs of Medco and Express Scripts are too deceptive to be ignored.

CEO Insults Medco Pharmacists
At a meeting earlier this month, the CEO of Medco is reported to have stated that Medco's "robots" are "twenty-three times more accurate" than human pharmacists with respect to errors in dispensing prescriptions. Why is the "leader" of a pharmacy company even suggesting that robots and pharmacists can be compared, particularly when the comparison he states is so demeaning to pharmacists? His statement is most insulting to his own Medco pharmacists because these are the only pharmacists whose accuracy Medco is in a position to determine. Medco pharmacists must be furious! Only several months ago it was announced that Medco had agreed to be acquired by Express Scripts. If the acquisition is approved, there is every reason to believe that the CEO of Medco will become even wealthier than he is now as his "reward" for facilitating the acquisition. At the same time, however, many Medco pharmacists and other employees face the uncertainties of whether their positions will be eliminated or whether they may have to relocate to retain their positions. Then, to add insult to injury, Medco's CEO lauds the accuracy of its robots. However, someone had to program the robots. Could it have been Medco pharmacists that their CEO somehow overlooked?

But perhaps the Medco CEO was attempting to compare the Medco robots with pharmacists in local pharmacies. To my knowledge, there is no study that directly compares mail-order pharmacies and local pharmacies with respect to accuracy rates in dispensing prescriptions. So where does the Medco CEO's allegation that his robots are twenty-three times more accurate come from? Did Medco conduct a study that they have not published or otherwise made available? Or is this yet another extrapolation of a study done years ago that was designed by Medco personnel using study parameters that they selected, and that was conducted by individuals having a vested interest in the results. There were no local pharmacies included in this study. However, that did not stop the Medco personnel from attempting to compare the results of their "study" with the results of a different study in local pharmacies conducted by objective researchers. Medco and other mail-order pharmacies have attempted to use their data to claim that their pharmacies make fewer errors. However, this is blatant deception! Even the Medco authors of the paper they published regarding their study acknowledge that "Ébecause mail-service pharmacies differ in their operation and degree of automation, these findings cannot be generalized to mail-service pharmacies as a class." I agree with this acknowledgement. However, if the study findings can't even be considered applicable to other mail-order pharmacies, there is absolutely no credibility to the claims of Medco and others that these findings can be considered applicable to local pharmacies.

Dissing Retail Pharmacy
In the same meeting in which the comment about the robots was made, the Medco CEO made the observations about retail pharmacy that "Éthere's a fiction that a pharmacist comes out and dialogues with you. ÉIn reality, a high school student hands you a script from the shelf." He prefaced these comments by noting "I'm not dissing retail [pharmacy]É" However, this contradictory disclaimer can in no way diminish his outrageous denigration of community pharmacy practice. I will acknowledge that there are some local pharmacies in which there is no communication between the pharmacist and patient, and little or no professional service provided. I am critical of these pharmacies - but at least prescriptions are provided on a timely basis and a pharmacist is quickly available to respond to questions. How can the Medco CEO make such demeaning remarks about the profession of pharmacy from which his company has derived huge profits? How can he be so critical of community pharmacy practice and completely ignore the limitations and failures of the mail-order pharmacy for which he has responsibility?

Different Venue-Different Message
The planned acquisition of Medco by Express Scripts has raised numerous concerns that are being addressed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Congressional committees. Those opposing the acquisition are concerned that the merger of two of the three largest pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) will result in a dominant and anticompetitive influence in the marketplace that will force an even larger number of consumers to obtain their prescriptions from the mail-order pharmacies that these PBMs own. Many local pharmacies will not be able to survive financially and the provision of medications and professional services on a timely basis for patients will be diminished.

The testimony provided by the Medco CEO before the FTC has strikingly different content and tone when compared with his comments identified earlier. His comments include: "More than 85% of prescriptions filled for Medco customers are filled through our networks of more than 60,000 retail pharmacies. Medco is dependent on the continued existence of strong independent retail pharmacies." Can these comments be provided by the same individual who speaks so disparagingly about the accuracy of pharmacists compared with his robots? The message clearly depends on the audience and, for the FTC, the message is that there are tens of thousands of local pharmacies on whom Medco is dependent and a competitive marketplace will continue. Compared with the other comments of the Medco CEO and the actions of Medco in the marketplace, this message is hypocritical.

The Express Scripts Message
At a hearing of a House subcommittee that is examining the planned acquisition of Medco, the CEO of Express Scripts noted that the acquisition would result in "safer and more affordable" drugs. I have already refuted the allegation that mail-order pharmacies are safer than local pharmacies. One response to the claim that drugs will be more affordable if the acquisition is permitted is the following question: What has happened to the cost of prescription drugs during the period of time in which the number of prescriptions dispensed by mail-order pharmacies has greatly increased? The answer is that the cost of prescription drugs has also greatly increased. If these PBMs were not able to make drugs more affordable during the period in which their size, power, and influence have markedly increased, why would they be able to do this if they were permitted to merge? The answer is they can't and they won't. This issue is addressed in greater detail in the editorial in the July issue of The Pharmacist Activist - "Express Scripts and Medco - A Fallen Giant or a Bigger Monster?"

When the CEO of Express Scripts was asked at the House subcommittee hearing to identify the best way to reduce prescription drug costs, his response was by reducing waste, fraud, and abuse. This is a laudable goal but his response invites attention to the most important reasons for the waste of medications and the resultant costs. The most frequent explanation is the large quantities of medications received from mail-order pharmacies that are not used.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has held three National Drug Take-Back Days - in September, 2010, April, 2011, and on October 29, 2011. On the first two of these days, more than 309 tons of medications were collected. If a study was done of randomly selected quantities of the collected medications (while preserving the confidentiality of the patients who turned in the medications), my expectation is that the medications supplied by mail-order pharmacies would represent a disproportionately high percentage.

Actions
The National Community Pharmacists Association and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, as well as a number of consumer organizations, have mounted strong opposition to the acquisition of Medco by Express Scripts. Individual pharmacists, particularly those in local pharmacies, must join this effort. Owners of pharmacies should individually assess their participation in prescription benefit programs in which there are non-negotiable, take-it-or-leave-it terms of participation, inadequate compensation, abusive audits, and insulting criticism from those administering the programs.

Daniel A. Hussar

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