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Run on Tamiflu rankles pharmacist

April 28, 2009 |  5:00 pm

Tamiflu Consumer demand for the drugs Tamiflu and Relenza is skyrocketing -- which doesn't sit well with some health professionals. The prescription drugs can be used to prevent infection with influenza, including the swine flu virus. The drugs are also mildly helpful to people who are already infected with flu, shortening the duration of the illness by a day or so.

But Pacific Palisades pharmacist Christine Amos was aghast when about 25 prescriptions for Tamiflu came into the store Monday. Even during the winter months, the pharmacy usually only fills about one Tamiflu prescription per week, she says. The store also had many calls about the medications, but Amos informed customers that the medication was out of stock.

"Clearly these requests are for stockpiling and not for active infections," says Amos, who has been a pharmacist for 24 years. She works at Pharmaca on Sunset Boulevard. "These drugs sit in the medicine cabinets of the well-heeled who can demand and get a prescription for every single member of the family while these drugs remain in short supply for populations that may need it. People in under-served populations without access to medical care rely on clinics that may not have these antivirals in part due to unnecessary hoarding."

She noted that there are no active cases of swine flu in Pacific Palisades. Other area pharmacies are out of the medications, too.

"Forgive my cynicism but it seems in private medical practices, the tail wags the dog. In this era of advertised pharmaceuticals, many patients demand prescriptions based on advertising and media without the benefit of a physical examination."

A story in today's Los Angeles Times points to the problems of misusing antivirals. If the swine flu outbreak turns into a pandemic, the actions that Amos describes may come back to haunt all of us.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Antoine Antonio / Bloomberg News

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