The Australian Skeptic's Bent Spoon Award for 2006 went to the pharmacists of Australia. That's a lot of winners to share the trophy, but I don't think they'll be bickering. According to Skeptics, pharmacists "manage to forget their scientific training long enough to sell quackery and snake oil in places where consumers should expect to get real medical supplies and advice."
Well deserved. Go into practically any pharmacy (drugstore) these days and you'll wonder if you have apparated into The Apothecary of Diagon Alley. Pharmacists are suffering symptoms of gravely degenerate magical thinking - peddling the likes of Rescue Remedy for first aid. I've seen this taking pride of place on the front counter. Handy, I suppose, for peanut allergy victims or cardiac arrests. Many host in-house naturopaths, pushing fantasies like homeopathy. How can contradictory health advice harmoniously co-exist under the same roof? I guess when you're exposed to woo all day, it becomes an occupational hazard.
Whenever I have to wait for a script, I enjoy observing the dual reality. What wins when put to the test? The other night a girl, with an asthmatic cough and a cold, came in for advice. I held my breath - right before her was a fabulous array of homeopathy, aromatherapy, immunity boosters and detox kits. What would she get? The pharmacist reverted - told the girl to see her doctor and sold her a ventolin inhaler. But it wasn't a good testcase - the naturopath had gone home - they don't seem to do 'out-of-hours'.
It's probably about money. Pharmacies have lost out to supermarkets (in return they're trying to snatch turf from doctors - why can't everyone keep to their own patch?) But there's hope. According to Australian Doctor magazine (10th Nov '06) the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has concerns about the way the Therapeutic Goods Administration listing gives complementary medicines "pseudo justification for their efficacy". And a campaign is being waged by scientist Loretta Marron and University of Sydney's Prof Lesley Campbell, to de-list placebo products and those with "no basis in science". Should they succeed, 2,000 or so products will be delisted. It won't stop sales, but the lolly section of pharmacies may need extending.
Mind you, why wait for the TGA? Rumour has it Québec is developing a new code of ethics for pharmacists, including banishing non-pharmacist health counseling from the prescription desk.
Could there be a happy ending here? If Aussies cleaned up their shops, would Skeptics consider stripping the Bent Spoon from Australian pharmacists?