A Prescription Drug Tale Commentator Dr. David Watts shares a story about health care regulations that have gone too far. Watts' latest book is Bedside Manners.

A Prescription Drug Tale

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Here's a story about the regulation of prescription drugs from commentator Dr. David Watts.


I am on vacation. My ear hurts. Naturally I don't have my medicine with me, but we're about to stop to gather a few provisions for the long nights ahead. This might be an opportunity to get ahold of that mix of magical ingredients: a little drop of steroid, a little antibiotic brought together in some sterile water. And $45 later, everything is going to be all right.

Yes, the supermarket is one of those that comes with a pharmacy. Real nice. But they have their rules. The pharmacist wants my driver's license. OK. Address. OK. Phone number, California medical license number. Yes, indeed. But now they want the actual medical license itself. I look at the pharmacist: `I suppose you'd like my mother's library card.' She wasn't amused. `I don't have it with me,' I say. `Then we can't fill your prescription,' she says. `But, you know,' I say, `if I had called you on the phone'--she was way ahead of me. `Yes,' she says, `I can take your order by phone, but if you walk into the store and write a prescription, we have to see your medical license.'

`Let me get this straight,' I say. `You mean that, as a doctor, I'm more convincing on the phone than I am in the flesh?' `It's the law,' she says. And right here, in the middle of this moment, I remember Jack Nicholson as Robert Dupea in "Five Easy Pieces," the scene where he's trying to order an omelette and toast, but the waitress won't give him a side of toast. So he orders a chicken salad sandwich, hold the butter, hold the lettuce, hold the mayonnaise. And then he says, `Now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for a chicken salad sandwich and you haven't broken any rules.'

I looked down at the counter. There, looking like a miniature billboard sitting in its little billboard rack, is a stack of the pharmacist's business cards. I take one. I look back up at her. Perhaps if I were Robert Dupea, I'd have that fiery streak that would pull out my cell right then and there and call her up face to face. But then he got thrown out of the restaurant for stunts like that and never did get his omelette and toast.

I walk a few aisles away into the cosmetics section. I can still see the pharmacist when someone answers my call. `Let me get the pharmacist,' she says, and she puts me on hold. The person who was just standing in front of me turns to answer the phone. `Hello,' she says. `This is the pharmacist.' `Good,' I say. `And this is Dr. Watts.' And it could be my imagination, but I would swear that the look in her eyes could melt nails. `Go ahead,' she says. `I'd like to order a small bottle of Cortisporin.' `OK. Will generics do?' `Sure.' `Do we have you on computer?' `No, I don't think so.' `Let me get your address.' I give it. `Your telephone number.' I give it. `Your California license number.' I give it. `OK,' she says, `it'll be ready in 15 minutes.' `Swell,' I say. `And, you see, we haven't broken any rules.'

NORRIS: Dr. David Watts. His latest book is titled "Bedside Manners."

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