Mom Says Pharmacist Refused to Fill Her Teen's IUD-Related Meds

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When you walk up to the pharmacy desk with a doctor's prescription for your child's medicine, you're expecting to walk out the door with that medicine in hand. You're not expecting to be shamed by the pharmacist for the prescription drugs you let your child take. But that's exactly what one New Mexico mom says happened to her at a Walgreens pharmacy last year, and it's why she's turned to the ACLU for help.

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The mom -- identified as M.S. in court documents to protect her child's privacy -- says she went to the Albuquerque pharmacy with three prescriptions in hand. One was for Misoprostol, a drug that can be used for stomach ulcers or to soften the cervix for an IUD insertion, which is what the teen would be undergoing the next day. The drug can also be used in conjunction with another to chemically induce an abortion

M.S. says the pharmacist refused to fill the prescription, citing his own "personal beliefs," and turned her away. When she challenged him on it, pointing out that he didn't know her daughter's medical history (she was reportedly experiencing difficult periods) or the reason she was using the drug, M.S. says the pharmacist's response was "oh, I have a pretty good idea."

You can just hear him saying it, can't you? In the voice your grade school principal used when the kid who was always eating his boogers swore he didn't do it this one time? 

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The family has got the ACLU and the Southwest Women's Law Center on their side in the fight against Walgreens. Together they recently filed two complaints stating that the pharmacist's refusal to give this mom her kid's medicine amounts to sex discrimination, which is illegal under the New Mexico Human Rights Act. Walgreens, meanwhile, has released statements saying company policy is to allow pharmacists to decline to fill a script based on personal beliefs but that they must turn the job over to someone else, so the patient is still served. 

But it's hard not to wonder why someone goes to school to be a pharmacist at all if this is his or her attitude toward patients and their needs. Pharmacists are supposed to help people on the path to getting better, not stand there with their arms crossed over their chests and a snide grin on their face, making you feel worse. 

There's certainly room (and an obligation) for a pharmacist to speak up if they spot a medication issue that could put a kid at risk -- it's why using the same pharmacy for all your prescriptions is helpful. Pharmacists can catch drug interactions before they happen. That's literally what they're trained to do. 

But medical training is focused on the patient. Personal beliefs are just that. They're about you and not about the patient. 

This kid spoke with her doctor about her medical needs. She had both doctor and parental support. 

How dare he say he knows what's better for this kid than all three people in such a situation, three people who are much more intimately familiar with the teenager's health history and current situation? 

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Can you imagine the reverse? If a parent walked into a pharmacy, knew nothing about the person on the other side of the counter, and said it's his or her personal belief that medicine is not useful and the pharmacy should be closed immediately? Or if the pharmacist walked into a grocery store where the Jewish clerk said the patron wasn't allowed to buy a non-kosher hot dog because the clerk happens to keep kosher? 

Personal beliefs are fine. But they're just that -- personal. Unless you're speaking up based on some actual knowledge (i.e., a possible drug interaction), imposing your beliefs on someone else is crossing a very distinct line. 

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