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Pharmacist Shortage Affects Consumers

There's a nationwide shortage of pharmacists, despite the remarkable number of new pharmacies that keep cropping up, which could put consumers at risk for mistakes, CBS 2's Paul Moniz reports.

According to a recent study by the department of Health and Humans Services, there were 7,000 unfilled positions at pharmacies, up from 2,800 only two years ago, which is an increase of 150 percent.

Doctor Peter Doukas, dean of Temple University School of pharmacy says the 24-hour drive-thru chains are contributing to the shortage but that's not all.

"Everybody speaks about the aging population and that, of course, is a primary contributor," he explains. "The second is that managed care is expecting that more are more people needing medical treatment are going to be taken care of by prescriptions, by drugs."

At the same time drug demand is up, the number of pharmacy school admissions is down, by 33 percent from 1994 to 1999.

One reason is that prospective students are becoming more interested in high tech fields and dot com companies and many don't want to devote the six years it takes to become a pharmacist.

Still, for pharmacy students, hoping to snag a job that pays between $50,000 to $80,000 a year, the opportunities are falling like snow.

"All the major companies in the area come to recruit just me personally," says pharmacology student, Mark Eisele. "I set up five interviews so it's easy. In one day, I'll have five interviews."

The pharmacist shortage means consumers stand in longer lines and that pharmacy technicians, not pharmacists are filling prescriptions, which has many people feeling uneasy.

"It's a big worry," says Natalie Fisichelli. "I read it in the paper. I was horrified. No one wants to go to these pharmacies anymore."

Major pharmacy chains stress a rigorous system of checks and balances and say when technicians fill prescriptions, the law requires a pharmacist do a final check on any prescription that leaves the store.

Customers such as Trina King are not taking any chances.

"I always try to be very careful and if I have any doubt, I call my doctor and say, 'Is this what you ordered for me, is this what it looks like,'" she says. "I always double check. "

The American Pharmaceutical Association says it will address the shortage in January. Possible short-term solutions include more training of pharmacy technicians.

Many companies have already started planning long term through stepped up recruitment, beginning in high school.

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