Stores offer "free" antibiotics

February 13, 2009 2:03:21 PM PST
In recent weeks, some supermarket pharmacies have made a big offer - free antibiotics.

Some say it will save customers millions of dollars, but others say it's sending a real mixed message.

Outside the pharmacy at Genuardi's in Wynnewood, Montgomery County, is a sign that's hard to miss - Free Antibiotics.

Earlier this month, Genuardi's became the latest supermarket in the area to offer these infection-fighters for free.

All it takes is a doctor's prescription and a Genuardi's club card to get them.

Maryanne Crager, Genuardi's public affairs manager, says, "These 9 antibiotics are the most common and frequently prescribed antibiotics during the winter season."

Markets say the offers are generating a lot of interest.

Crager reports, "The pharmacists are getting a lot of phone calls, not only from the customers, but from the doctors as well."

While cutting drug costs in these tough times is a good thing, public health experts say there may be a downside in this case.

For years, they've tried to reduce the use of antibiotics, to cut the growing number of germs that are resistant to them.

"The more drug that you use, whatever it is, the more resistance you're going to see," says Dr. Thomas Fekete, an infectious disease specialist at Temple University Hospital.

He says most winter ailments are caused by viruses, and antibiotics won't kill viruses.

But sick patients have a hard time accepting that.

Dr. Fekete notes, "The patients feel like they need something, and this is very easy to write out. And the doctors often don't view it as doing any harm. The truth of the matter is that it's not very helpful."

Dr. Fekete says another concern of his is the risk of side effects.

"For the occasional patient who gets a serious side effect, it can be life-threatening," notes Dr. Fekete. Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is one of those serious side effects.

Genuardi's and other markets did discuss these concerns, but ultimately decided to put their trust in the doctors.

Crager says, "We really leave those decisions between the doctor and the patient. Obviously, the doctor knows what's best for the patient."

Genuardi's offer, which lasts through March 31, 2009, covers the following drugs:

* Amoxicillin

* Ampicillin

* Bacitracin Ophthalmic Ointment

*Cephalexin

*Ciprofloxacin

*Erythromycin Stearate and Ethylsuccinate

*Penicillin

*Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim

Genuardi's offer is not valid in New Jersey. Other markets offering free antibiotics include Wegman's, Shop Rite, and Stop & Shop.

The supermarkets are following the lead initially set by some independent pharmacies, such as the Skippack and Sellersville Pharmacies in the Philadelphia suburbs. They have been offering free antibiotics for months, and plan to continue through the end of March.

Remember you will need a prescription from your doctor.

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