Chains' ties run deep on pharmacy boards

ByABC News
December 30, 2008, 9:48 PM

— -- The five executives aren't the only retail chain pharmacists who serve on the state panels assigned to oversee prescription drug safety for the American public. A USA TODAY examination shows employees of major drugstore chains or supermarket pharmacies accounted for nearly one in four of the 295 pharmacists on the panels this year.

The appointments give consumers the benefit of the pharmacists' expertise. But they also give the chains a network with potential say about decisions that affect the pharmacy industry.

Most chain pharmacists abstain from votes that have a direct impact on their firms. DeVita, for instance, didn't vote on a 2005-06 investigation of CVS prescription errors, records show. But USA TODAY's examination, which included a survey of pharmacy boards in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, plus court and government records and information from the firms, found potential or alleged conflicts:

Two Walgreens pharmacists on Florida's board opposed the maximum fine for another Walgreens pharmacist who failed to catch a prescription error that led to a construction worker's death.

Before retiring from Wal-Mart in 2007, Dufour took part in discussions and votes on a cost-saving system for filling prescriptions that could benefit retail pharmacies, including Wal-Mart.

In Nevada, where chain representatives hold four of the six pharmacist seats, the lone member representing the public heads an advocacy group that represents chain pharmacies. She recuses herself from disciplinary matters involving those firms, prompting a complaint that state residents have been deprived of a voice.

At this year's convention of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, an independent organization that helps the state panels develop uniform standards, a chain pharmacy industry group spent more than $21,000 on a reception for pharmacy board delegates.

"The chains aggressively seek as much representation on the boards as they possibly can," says Daniel Hussar, a pharmacy professor at Philadelphia's University of the Sciences and editor of the Pharmacist Activist newsletter.

Burgess testified in a 2007 court deposition that Walgreens encourages its pharmacists to seek board seats because "it's very important for our employees to be actively engaged with their professional associations and their boards of pharmacy."

Who serves

Hussar says he's concerned the chains could "promote individuals who have a high loyalty" to their employers rather than to consumers for the posts.