Vested Interests Abound on Pharmacy Boards

January 6, 2009

Physicians who use complementary and alternative therapies in their clinical practices often face charges from their respective state boards of medicines for practicing “outside the standard of care.” USA Today has conducted a review of the state pharmacy board panels, who are assigned to oversee prescription drug safety for American consumers. They found that nearly one in four of the 295 pharmacists who currently sit on the panels are employees of major drugstore chains or supermarket pharmacies. According to USA Today, their appointments “give the chains a network with potential say about decisions that affect the pharmacy industry.” Walgreens and CVS, the nation’s largest drugstore chains, are tied for the most board appointments, with twenty-one seats each.

Pharmacy board members are typically appointed by state governors. The boards typically license pharmacists and pharmacies, set pharmacist training standards, oversee the inspections of pharmacies, and hold disciplinary hearings for alleged safety violations. They have tremendous power, as has been demonstrated by their attacks on compounding pharmacists. These pharmacists, who are not part of the chain drugstore or supermarket network, address the needs of patients whose physicians favor a more individualized approach to prescribing and dispending medication. A case in point has been the heated battle between the use of prescription synthetic hormone replacement therapy versus bio-identical hormone therapy dispensed by compounding pharmacists.

With Sen. Grassley’s recent focus on how vested interests skew medical school education and research, it would be fascinating to tally how many of those who sit on state boards of medicine receive compensation from pharmaceutical drug makers and medical device manufacturers. For years, physicians who seek to provide their patients individualized care using clinical nutrition only using pharmaceutical drugs when necessary have been targeted by state boards. Drug makers and medical device firms have much to lose with this integrative approach to medicine. Does their influence extend to state boards of medicine?

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