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Pharmacists, are we prepared for uncertainty?

Female community pharmacist Kimberley Kallio

I sat down today to write yet another article about Covid. But when my fingers started to type, the only thing on my mind was the situation in Ukraine. War in Europe. It seemed unthinkable when the news first broke. But then again, a great many things were unthinkable a few years ago. Before we started to see our collective assumptions challenged on an ever more increasing basis. Cherry picking here, but since 2008, we’ve seen our world disrupted by a worldwide financial crisis, a worldwide pandemic, and now war in Europe. 

All this to say: stability is not guaranteed. Just because you can go to the grocery store today and get all you need for dinner, doesn’t mean you can tomorrow. Just because people can access cheap medications at your pharmacy today, doesn’t mean that will be the case tomorrow. Just because you don’t need to fight in the streets to defend your freedoms, doesn’t mean you won’t tomorrow.

All this instability has me thinking: are we prepared for uncertainty? As individuals? As a society?

Of course, I am not the only person thinking this way. As one could predict, the global emergency preparedness market, once valued at over $10 billion, has only grown with these events. Just as we saw sales of immune boosting supplements boom with the onslaught of the pandemic, the sale of bug out bags and prepping supplies has been on the rise. And why have these markets enjoyed booms during a crisis? Because our society loves a quick fix. When faced with the choice to institute lifestyle changes or take a pill, our collective response is to take the pill.  

The harsh reality is that our modern world is not robust enough to survive instability.  Our modern comforts and lifestyles have made it such that we are reliant on those comforts for our very survival. We are a society more sedentary than ever before. Lifestyle-driven disease is incredibly prevalent and is only increasing. There was once a time where a disruption to the supply of medications would only affect a small portion of the population. Now we have children in our society on metformin! We are so disconnected from the concept of “health” that I routinely hear patients say they don’t have high blood pressure because their blood pressure is normal while stable on three blood pressure medications!

As a pharmacist, we love to say that we are the most accessible healthcare professionals. There is a pharmacy in every town. In some places it seems there is one on every block. We are there in so-called normal times dealing with coughs and colds, yeast infections and UTIs, ensuring seamless access to medications when they are forgotten on holiday. And we are there in a crisis: staying open during floods and fires. Always available to provide medications to those who need them.

But what if the supply of medications is not a given? What if there is no power to run the pharmacy?

This is not an article meant to shame any individual for lifestyle-driven diseases. Health is more complex than the want or need for it. There are hereditary, socioeconomic, random effects that feed into whether a person is more or less reliant on our medical system. 

What I hope for our society is that we stop focusing on propping up the system we have, which pays for short-term solutions (medications) to systemic problems (access to care, education, etc.), and start focusing on holistic, long-term solutions to a society all too dependent on nearly round-the-clock access to medications.

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