Online Exclusives

Educating Pharmacists on Supplements

By Joanna Cosgrove, Online Editor | June 4, 2012

CRN and FMI partner to educate pharmacists who provide supplement information to consumers.

Pharmacists play a critical – though often overlooked – role in the health and well-being of the customers they encounter each day. More than just dispensers of pharmaceuticals, pharmacists work in partnership with doctors to ensure their patrons receive the best and most appropriate treatments to cure their ills. Quite often, customers turn to pharmacists for their advice on not just prescription medication, but also dietary supplements, asking questions like which supplement is best for certain conditions and which brand is most reputable.
Last year the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) acknowledged the important function of pharmacists as supplement counselors with the publication   of “Roadmap for Retailers,” a brochure designed to remind pharmacists about their legal obligations when recommending or selling dietary supplements in a retail setting. The guide continues to gain traction and find favor in the industry, as the Food Marketing Institute recently endorsed an expanded edition of the tool for distribution to its retail pharmacy members.
According to research from the “Life…supplemented” Healthcare Professionals (HCP) Impact Study, 93% of pharmacists recommend supplements to their patients, while 87% believe that supplements can play an important role in improving or maintaining the health of their patients. Additionally, pharmacists reported being most often asked about omega-3/fish oil (noted by 75%), calcium (73%) and glucosamine/chondroitin (70%).
CRN said pharmacists and other pharmacy personnel can use its “Roadmap” as a reminder about the kinds of claims that are acceptable in retail pharmacies. CRN and FMI agreed to extend this education effort by holding a webinar later this year for pharmacists on Pharmacist Society, an online community for pharmacy professionals sponsored by the Drug Store News Group. 
“As part of CRN’s ongoing commitment to educating healthcare professionals about the safe use of dietary supplements, this partnership gives CRN the opportunity to help educate a community of healthcare practitioners who deal directly with millions and millions of consumers who want information about dietary supplements,” said Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, CRN. “Working with FMI on this project gives us further access to the pharmacists who sell our products and want to stay on the right side of the law.”
“Pharmacists are highly trained, valuable resources for consumers, and the ‘Roadmap’ will serve as a helpful reference tool when guiding consumers to dietary supplements to support their health regimens,” said Cathy Polley, vice president of health and wellness and executive director of the FMI foundation.
Sending a Clear Message
The brochure itself offers pharmacists a supplement law primer. Beginning with an overview of how DSHEA and FTCA require all supplement labels and marketing claims to be “truthful and non-misleading” and “scientifically substantiated,” the brochure also makes clear that dietary supplements are prohibited to “claim that they can treat, cure, mitigate, diagnose or prevent disease.” Likewise, the brochure advises, when a pharmacist is assisting their patron, they are also to avoid suggesting supplements to treat a disease or replace prescription drugs.
The Roadmap encourages pharmacists to understand supplement regulations, familiarize themselves with supplement labels, promote the consumer/healthcare practitioner dialogue, help educate their customers, and to be wary of offering personal experiences or testimonials about their own experiences with supplements.
“A simple rule of thumb would be to limit your discussions about a product’s benefits to what is listed on the label or in the manufacturer’s printed material,” the brochure stated. “The language used there should already be within the scope of the law and should have been substantiated with credible scientific evidence by the product’s manufacturer/marketer.”
In addition, the brochure defines the three basic types of legal claims that are permitted on supplement packages: nutrient content claims, structure/function claims and FDA-approved health claims (or qualified health claims).
At its close, the brochure encourages pharmacists to maintain an open dialogue with their customers. “When it comes to their health, today’s consumer engages in more preventive measures to maintain wellness, such as incorporating routine exercise, a healthy diet and appropriate dietary supplements,” the brochure read. “It’s important consumers be proactive in discussing their health plans with their pharmacists—including any supplements they are taking or considering—as their pharmacist is uniquely positioned to offer effective ways of integrating supplements into an existing wellness plan. In particular, pharmacists should share information about potential interactions between pharmaceutical products and dietary supplements, as well as any concerns about nutrient depletion caused by pharmaceuticals so consumers can appropriately consider supplements as a source to replenish those nutrients.”
It also encouraged pharmacists to “stay current with emerging nutrition science” in an effort to support the health goals and interests of their patrons. “By working together, pharmacists and consumers both benefit from initiating and maintaining an open dialogue when it comes to taking a proactive step toward wellness,” the brochure stated. “And that leads to greater long-term health for everyone.”