Local druggists seek to level playing field with chain pharmacies

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Pharmacist Barry Barth in his store in downtown Riverhead.

Four independent pharmacy owners from the North Fork are among a group of 15 East End drugstore operators fighting back against prescription mail order and chain drug operations that threaten their livelihoods.
“We’re just trying to level the playing field,” said Brian Walker of Southold Pharmacy.
Barth’s Drug Store of Riverhead, Barth’s of Mattituck, Southold Pharmacy and Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy have joined a consortium started by Robert Grisnik of Southrifty Drug in Southampton Village. Barry Barth’s pharmacies in East Moriches and Westhampton Beach are also part of the consortium.
“There’s always strength in numbers,” said Paulette Ofrias, whose family owns both the Southold and Shelter Island Heights pharmacies.
The first project of the group was to set a day — yesterday, Wednesday, Nov. 17 — to accept expired prescriptions from area residents for safe disposal. The pharmacies agreed to take back the old drugs no matter where they were purchased and to work with police to ensure that they were properly incinerated.
People used to toss old drugs down the toilet but studies showed that high levels of certain drugs were turning up in groundwater and waterways. And tossing them in the garbage isn’t good because it they can be snagged by people looking to traffic in prescription drugs, Ms. Ofrias said.
“We live here and this is our water and our environment,” Mr. Barth said, explaining the importance of properly disposing of expired pharmaceuticals.
Keeping old drugs in the medicine cabinet makes them accessible to teens who may want to illegally take them or sell them, Ms. Ofrias said.
Prescription medications are surpassed only by marijuana as the most common illegal drugs used by youths today, she said. And it might not be your own child taking the drugs from your home. Your child’s friends might go looking through your medicine cabinet, she said.
Wednesday’s event was only one of many efforts the independent pharmacists hope to undertake in the year ahead to draw customers back from the chains and mail-order websites, Mr. Walker said.
They also want to work together to see if they can negotiate better prices with suppliers and higher reimbursements from insurance companies, he said, and pass those savings on to their customers.
It’s the mail-order pharmacies that are hurting independents the most, Mr. Barth said. “A lot of this is based on kickbacks” insurers offer pharmaceutical companies to make their drugs available for less if purchased through the mail, he said.
“They make everybody jump through a bunch of hoops,” Mr. Barth said of the insurers. He expressed optimism that by working together the independents can gain ground in their effort to compete on a more level playing field.
“We all fight the same battle,” Ms. Ofrias said.  
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