Monday, March 12, 2012

The Giant Drug Chains Are Cheapening The Profession Of Pharmacy You Say? What Possible Evidence Do You Have For Such A Claim? Oh. Well, OK Then.



DURBIN, BLUMENTHAL QUESTION POTENTIALLY DECEPTIVE MARKETING AT RITE AID

Concerned that “wellness ambassadors” recommending dietary supplements are mistaken for pharmacists and medical professionals

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today questioned potentially deceptive marketing practices at the drugstore chain Rite Aid which has GNC dietary supplement stores in more than 2,000 Rite Aid pharmacies nationwide.  In a letter to the President and CEO of Rite Aid, Durbin and Blumenthal express concern over the placement of “wellness stations” in stores, which are staffed by “wellness ambassadors” who take health questions from customers and often recommend dietary supplements – which have not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – to treat medical conditions. 

“We are writing to inquire about potentially deceptive marketing practices at Rite Aid Pharmacy stores that could mislead consumers seeking medical advice and direct customers to treat health conditions with dietary supplements,” the Senators wrote.  “We are concerned that Rite Aid customers seeking a prescription or an over-the-counter drug are misled into believing the wellness ambassador is a pharmacist or health professional qualified to dispense medical advice.  This potential for confusion could result in dramatic and dangerous consequences for consumers.” 

In many Rite Aids stores, the “wellness stations” are located near the pharmacy counter where customers seek medical assistance from qualified pharmacists.  Because of the close proximity to the pharmacy and the attire of “wellness ambassadors” – white coats similar to those worn by pharmacists – customers can easily be misled to believe the “wellness ambassador” is a pharmacist.  But the qualifications of a pharmacist and “wellness ambassador” are vastly different.  A typical pharmacist position requires a candidate to hold a doctor of pharmacy degree and complete a licensing examination while a “wellness ambassador” only requires a high school diploma or general education degree plus one year of experience in the retail or health care industry. 

Additionally, because “wellness ambassadors” field questions from Rite Aid customers about treatments for symptoms and health conditions, Durbin and Blumenthal are concerned that they could be making false and misleading claims by marketing or directing customers to purchase dietary supplements as treatments for health conditions.  The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits marketing products through “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” such as making explicit or implied medical claims that a dietary supplement can treat, prevent, or cure a specific disease or condition. 

[Text of today’s letter is below]

March 8, 2012

Mr. John T. Standley
President and Chief Executive Officer
Rite Aid Pharmacy
30 Hunter Lane
Camp Hill, PA 17011

            We are writing to inquire about potentially deceptive marketing practices at Rite Aid Pharmacy stores that could mislead consumers seeking medical advice and direct customers to treat health conditions with dietary supplements.

As a result of the partnership between Rite Aid and the dietary supplement retailer GNC Holdings, Inc., GNC stores have been placed in more than 2,000 Rite Aid pharmacies.  It has come to our attention that Rite Aid is establishing “wellness stations” within its stores, which are staffed by “wellness ambassadors” who take health questions from customers and recommend dietary supplements to treat medical conditions. 

Because these wellness stations are located near the pharmacy, we are concerned that customers seeking medical assistance are misled to believe the station is affiliated with the pharmacy.  The confusion is compounded by wellness ambassadors wearing white coats similar to those worn by pharmacists.  On Rite Aid’s website, the job description for wellness ambassadors only requires a “high school diploma or general education degree (GED), plus one year experience in retail or healthcare industry.”  In contrast, a typical pharmacist position requires a candidate to hold a doctor of pharmacy degree (Pharm.D) and complete a licensing examination.  We are concerned that Rite Aid customers seeking a prescription or an over-the-counter drug are misled into believing the wellness ambassador is a pharmacist or health professional qualified to dispense medical advice.  This potential for confusion could result in dramatic and dangerous consequences for consumers. 

Furthermore, we are deeply concerned that wellness ambassadors could be making false and misleading claims by marketing dietary supplements as treatments for health conditions.  The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits marketing products through “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” such as making explicit or implied medical claims that a dietary supplement can treat, prevent, or cure a specific disease or condition.  Because wellness ambassadors field questions from Rite Aid customers about treatments for symptoms and health conditions, we are troubled that customers could be directed to purchase dietary supplements, which have not been reviewed by the FDA or approved to be marketed like drugs. 

These practices raise questions about Rite Aid Pharmacy potentially misleading customers who trust your company to provide credible health information.  To ensure consumer safety and to better understand Rite Aid Pharmacy’s wellness stations and ambassadors, we ask for your response to the following questions: 

  • What training do wellness ambassadors receive to safely advise customers seeking product recommendations for medical conditions?
  • What steps does your company take to inform consumers that a wellness ambassador, wearing a white coat, is not a pharmacist or trained health professional?
  • What corporate plan is in place to ensure wellness ambassadors do not make unfounded medical claims that dietary supplements can prevent, treat, or cure health conditions?  If a corporate plan exists, how is it enforced?
  • Do wellness ambassadors take into account and advise customers of any dangers associated with a dietary supplement or drug that they recommend to customers?  For example, if a product should not be used by pregnant women, does the wellness ambassador ascertain whether a customer is pregnant before referring her to the product or caution the customer about the product’s risks?
  • Do wellness ambassadors solely or mostly direct consumers to dietary supplements as health aids?
  • Wellness ambassadors appear to employ tablet computers and software to assist them in their interactions with customers.  Does this software refer customers with specific symptoms to specific products?  If so, are these products dietary supplements, drugs, or both?
  • How many Rite Aid stores have wellness stations and wellness ambassadors?  Does Rite Aid intend to place wellness stations and ambassadors in all of its stores?


            Thank you for your consideration of this matter. 

Sincerely,



Richard J.  Durbin                                           Richard Blumenthal

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know about your chain, but the one I left would have considered that person over qualified to work in the pharmacy as a tech and fill prescriptions.

Anonymous said...

like rite aid would take a perfectly valid claim where lesser qualified individuals are paid to mimic the medical field and change their own system. Unfortunately, the only real way change to take place is for someone to be given false information and suffer serious consequences, which would still need to be proven in a court of law, most likely ending in an undisclosed settlemnt