Human Pharmacy Pros and Pitfalls: Eight Ways to Minimize Your Risk

Pharmacy
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Have you ever had one of your pet’s prescriptions filled at your friendly neighborhood pharmacy?

Whether it’s a small place or one of those big box retailers, most pharmacies outside your vet’s office will be staffed with pharmacists … human pharmacists. Which means your pets meds are being prepared by highly skilled human beings who may be more than qualified to medicate you safely, but by and large possess scarce knowledge of the kinds of animal drugs your veterinarian is wont to prescribe. 

The result of this perfectly legal — and I hasten to add, typically safe — arrangement is that errors in prescription drug details (such as dosages and individual species’ sensitivities) occur far more commonly than happen in the preparation of medications for human consumption.

Here’s a recent article detailing the emerging dangers in this department.

In case you’re wondering, this is nothing new. Pharmacists have always made more errors in the veterinary department. It makes sense. After all, these well-trained professionals have never been specifically schooled in the art and science of multispecies drug actions and interactions. 

These limitations comprise the primary reason why most veterinarians have long sought exclusive control over animal drugs by maintaining their own in-house pharmacies. Indeed, virtually all hospitals offer well-stocked pharmacies for their clients’ convenience and their patients’ safety alike.

The reality of modern veterinary practice, however, is that we veterinarians are no longer masters of our own pharmacies. This is the result of several changes in the world of animal health:

1. Animal-only drugs started to become big business a couple of decades ago. This meant that pharmacies — starting with the behemoth, Internet-based boys — began to compete mightily for the larger margin drugs and products newly devoted to pets and heavily marketed to their owners. Consequently, veterinarians could no longer compete with such cut-rate price points. 

2. Challenged by the steep prices of these newfangled drugs and products, pet owners developed a taste for shopping around for the best-priced items.

3. As veterinary medicine became more sophisticated, a whole new host of human products began making inroads into the expanding veterinary formulary. Everything from esoteric insulins, astronomically priced antifungals, and human drugs as novel as Prozac and Viagra meant the market for animals drugs had evolved from a nice-enough niche market topping to a serious bottom-line booster.

4. Veterinarians, responding to the high prices for so many of these drugs, have elected to outsource some of them. No longer are most of us willing to keep the arcane or esoteric on our shelves — not when their prices are so steep and the risk of a total loss through expiration is so high.

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