Beware of drug stores with 'ghost pharmacists': Philippines

PHILIPPINES - The public should be wary of drug stores that continue to sell prescription drugs even though they do not have pharmacists who can assist their customers, the Philippine Pharmacists Association (PPA) said on Tuesday.

Yolanda Robles, PPA executive vice president and former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Pharmacy, said many drug stores merely display certificates to make it appear that they have pharmacists on-site, but they actually don't have anyone present who can give buyers advice on the proper dosage of the medicines they buy.

"The problem is we have colleagues who are called ghosts pharmacists. Who are these ghosts pharmacists? They are the ones whose licenses are hung on the wall of drug stores but they are actually not there," Robles said in a forum in Manila.

She said the head of the Professional Regulatory Commission's Board of Pharmacy conducted a survey in Metro Manila's Camanava area in October and found out that 70 per cent of drug stores there had no pharmacists "at the time of (the) visit." Camanava stands for the northern cities of Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela.

"Seventy per cent had no pharmacist present, while 100 per cent had 'certificates.' But pharmacists should be present at all times," Robles said.

"It is even worse in the provinces," she added. "(Provincial governments) are complaining and the Food and Drug Administration does not have enough inspectors. So, when a drug store opens, they usually have no license or pharmacists. They're just like ordinary stores."

Robles also noted that there are now more than 20,000 drug stores in the country, excluding unlicensed pharmacies, but the PPA has only 12,600 registered members.

She said the absence of pharmacists could endanger the health of consumers because no one is present to guide the public on the medicines they buy.

"We should remember that medicines are not candies. If you use them incorrectly-by taking the wrong dosage-they could have adverse effects on the patient's health," Robles said.

"Medicines have an effective dosage range and a toxic range. When you reach (the latter), that is when you have the ill effects. Medicines are chemicals. They could affect your liver or your kidneys," she further explained.

"On the other hand, if the dosage is not enough, it's like you are just tickling the bacteria," Robles added.