s5 (s5) wrote,

Freedom Hating Pharmofascists

Our Europe trip is coming to an end, and it seems that I picked up a cold in Italy. (And before I go much further, it's been a really fantastic trip, but that's not why I'm posting this. For excited and interesting descriptions of places we've been, read Olivia's LJ and Flickr. For tedious rants and whinges, keep reading.)

Anyway, we're back in London right now for another day before returning to San Francisco, and of everything I love about Europe and the UK, the one thing I cannot hang with is how drug stores are run.

In the US, you simply walk into a Walgreens (or really any food market or convenience store) with the sniffles, choose the brand that best matches your symptoms, drug preferences, receptivity to package design / marketing, pay the money, and walk out the door.

Elsewhere, just about everything benign is behind the counter at a specialized pharmacy or chemist, usually open during bankers hours and Saturdays, and requires a conversation with gatekeeper of said products, who will choose on your behalf. And by "benign" I mean even products like Nyquil (in the UK "Night Nurse") and Pepto Bismo. In Italy, I had to negotiate in broken english and italian for menthol lozenges.

About an hour ago in London, obtaining simple cold medicine required dealings with two separate people. The first person kept handing me packages containing pseudoephidrine, even after I asked for something without (I want to nap, not reorganize my suitcase alphabetically), and was extremely reluctant to hand me the box so I could read the labels. After the second box, she lost interest in helping me. The other person (at the register) started asking me all sorts of questions that I felt were either irrelevant or obvious, like "are these for you?" and "are you intending to take these?". When I expressed surprise and confusion at the question, she repeated herself slowly and with irritation, in that way you talk if you were annoyed with someone who doesn't speak the same language as you. ("Yo Speako Anglaze?")

It turned out that she was asking because I had purchased two products that do similar things. In this case, they were nasal spray and cold medicine. Apparently, that requires her to tell me that I shouldn't buy them both.

Olivia informs me that this is the same in New Zealand, and she found the entire interaction to be amusing. Personally I found the questions confusing, as I'm used to picking up whatever I need and either trying them to see what works, or keeping something extra on hand in case I run out or need to try something else.

Her view was that their way of doing things is nice, since it puts the dispensary in the role of working with you and caring whether or not you make yourself sicker. Also she says that Americans are used to a dizzying array of choices and consequently develop exacting requirements that need to be catered to, while in this model, you explain your symptoms, and you're handed something that will probably work in most cases.

I agree that in America, we have way too many product options (I refuse to refer to product options as "choice") and that individuals often have no way to resolve them all or be informed enough. American retardedness with health insurance is the best example, probably in the whole of civilization, of how a confusing and infinitely expansive array of options can be bad to the point of killing people.

But on balance, I think the US approach is fine and dandy for over the counter sniffles and upset tummy medicines. There's really no lasting harm you can do, and sometimes you need the overkill of taking two different products. And having the gatekeeper who chooses the boxes for you but is too busy to actually talk to you or even let you read the label doesn't help inform you, and may do more harm than good for people with specific health needs or allergies. Who knows, maybe if I lived here, they would have that on file, and the CCTV camera would scan my face and send electric shocks to my fingertips if I accidently picked up a product that conflicted with my medical records.

In the end, after enduring dirty looks and intrusive interrogation, I obtained my cold medicine, and if all goes well, I can go back to feeling good about social democracy. Until then, all I want is the soothing warm touch of the invisible hand of the free market.
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