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The Truth About Pharmacy Laws of North Dakota

CVS is the only national chain in North Dakota.There has been another recent push to repeal the pharmacy law in North Dakota that restricts pharmacy ownership. The law, which was enacted in 1963, was created to protect locally-owned pharmacies from national and/or regional chains. This is not the first time this law has been challenged, however.

One notable challenge came in 1973 when regional drug chain Snyder’s Drug made claim that the law was unconstitutional. Snyder’s parent, Red Owl, already had several grocery stores within the state and had hoped to expand into the pharmacy business. In 1977, Osco Drug and White Drug also challenged the law alongside the National Association of Chain Pharmacies, but lost.

North Dakota has two exceptions to this law, CVS/pharmacy and Thrifty White Drug. CVS had purchased Osco Drug in 2006, which, along with White Drug, had locations in North Dakota prior to the law.

Those who support the law say repealing it would put an end to local ownership. Many argue that they recieve better customer service and one-on-one attention from a locally owned pharmacist. Some have also argued that a locally owned pharmacy is safer; claiming that a pharmacist takes a less active role in national chain stores.

Those who want the law repealed claim that national competition will provide more options and lower costs. No doubt about it, the moment the law would be repealed, national stores such as Walgreens and Wal-Mart would rush into the state. North Dakota is the only state in which Wal-Mart does not operate pharmacies.

It is true that national chains often rely on pharmacy technicians to fill prescriptions, however a pharmacist is still ultimately responsible for every script filled. A pharmacist is always present and must personally verify each script. He/She is putting their career and reputation on the line with each verification. Secondly, pharmacy techs must become certified, and typically undergo rigorous training. There are even college degrees targeted for pharmacy technicians. Additionally, if a technician and pharmacist are both working on your script, that makes two people making sure there are no mistakes. Many local pharmacies have just a pharmacist on duty.

Saying that a local pharmacy is safer than a national chain just isn’t true. Yes, there have been circumstances across the country of wrongly dispensed medication at national chains, but even those are rare. CVS and Walgreens alone have over 12,000 stores in the United States, so there is bound to be a mistake once and awhile amongst the millions of prescriptions filled each year. It is not always the pharmacy’s fault either, but sometimes the doctor who prescribed the medicine. It isn’t fair to compare 12,000 stores against one.

This country is built on free enterprise, and yet North Dakota is restricting that freedom by not allowing these companies to do business in this state. With this law in place, it is also limiting competition in the state, and in turn creating local monopolies, driving prescription prices up.

Residents are worried about their small-town pharmacies going out of business. First off, if your local pharmacy is as great as you think, it will be able to effectively compete against the national chains. It not, than I ask you if that’s what you want – an inadequate pharmacy.

National chains offer more than just pharmacies, they offer a full array of household merchandise as well. It’s hard to find a candy bar in a local pharmacy, much-less a bottle of laundry detergent. National chains often have longer hours as well, and many even have in-store walk-in clinics such as CVS’s Minute Clinic.

In the end, your small-town pharmacy will survive. Only pharmacies near the larger cities, especially Bismarck and Fargo, will be affected. Most chains won’t even consider a store in a trade area less than 50,000 people.

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