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VMS sales steady despite media hit

BY Michael Johnsen

Steve Mister, president and CEO for the Council for Responsible Nutrition

The credibility of the vitamins, minerals and supplements business has been attacked in recent months, with the New York Attorney General’s office in February claiming certain herbal supplements don’t contain what they purport to contain and are adulterated with undeclared ingredients, followed more recently by HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” in May reporting that the nation’s military is being duped into taking unsafe supplements by an “unregulated” industry that lobbies heavily for loose regulations.

Neither story has had a direct impact on sales of overall supplements. Current sales fluctuations can be attributed as much to weather and seasonality as to anything else, Steve Mister, president and CEO for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, told Drug Store News. But these stories are impacting the industry’s credibility among consumers and may deter new users. In coming years, that can place a drag on the growth of VMS in retail pharmacy outlets where new customers are likely to buy their first supplements, Mister said.  

DSN recently interviewed Mister about the myths and realities of the supplement business.

Myth: The dietary supplement industry is either unregulated or under-regulated.

Reality: The reality is there are very comprehensive regulations around this industry that cover everything from the labeling to the manufacturing processes to the testing of raw materials. … The reality is the Food and Drug Administration often does not rigorously enforce the law, despite the fact that they have tools available to them and that we have outlier companies who will violate the law.

Myth: The FDA has a funding issue, and enforcing the dietary supplement regulations is low on the priority list.

Reality: That is the reality. First of all, there is a tremendous lack of resources at the agency to do all of the things that are required. And the reality also is that they do put their resources where there is the [greatest] threat to public health. … Despite all of the things that people say about dietary supplements, by comparison we’re a pretty safe, regulated industry for the FDA. We have relatively few adverse events. …

Myth: The dietary supplement industry is like the ‘wild, wild west’ in that the players will do whatever they want to do without regard to the law.

Reality: The reality is we are a far cry from the wild west. … There are very minute regulations around our labeling and what has to be in the Supplement Facts panel. And the majority of companies within the industry want to do right by their consumers; they want to follow the law, and they abide by those requirements.

Myth: Supplements don’t work.

Reality: People who say that don’t really understand the science behind them and what they’re intended to do. Supplements are not intended to be drugs; if they were, they’d be regulated like drugs. But that doesn’t mean they do not provide nutrition; that they don’t fill in gaps; that they don’t provide more subtle ways for your body to stay healthy.

Myth: Supplements don’t contain what the label says they contain.

Reality: This is an issue that, on the one hand, the industry has been wrestling with for several years because we have products from these outlying players that are spiked with pharmaceuticals or with anabolic steroids, for example. The only way for consumers to really respond to that is to be very savvy in their purchases, buy from reputable companies and not buy products that seem to be making [immediate gratification] claims. …

On the other hand, there are concerns in the industry about the supply chain. … If anything good has come out of this New York investigation, it is that it has gotten the industry talking more about the integrity of supply chains and the importance of identity testing. But I don’t want to give an ounce of credibility to the New York [Attorney General]’s investigation because the more we learn about that investigation, the more we know that all those accusations were built on faulty tests. It’s a house of cards.

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Telehealth dials in the age of Omnichannel Health

BY Rob Eder

As we raced to close this issue of Drug Store News, it sure had been a busy week for telehealth news, and by that measure, no headline was bigger than the news that Walgreens had decided to expand its partnership with Web-MD into three more states — Illinois, Washington and Colorado. Walgreens and WebMD first introduced the joint telehealth venture back in December, initially launching in California and Michigan. Apparently, that was a successful test run. According to Forbes, the two plan to have the service available in 25 states by the end of the year.

Not alone, news broke a day later that Wegmans was testing a telehealth concept in four markets — Dewitt, N.Y., Niagara Falls, N.Y., Fairfax, Va., and Allentown, Pa. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, through the Doctor on Demand service, users can see doctors and psychologists online via their desktops, smart-phones and tablets for about $40; important, those without access to their own technology can use the service via an in-store kiosk at Wegmans.

The kiosk is an important element of the model, as it keeps community pharmacy at the center of healthcare delivery.

Similarly, Rite Aid has been working on a telehealth pilot with its partner, HealthSpot, in three Ohio markets — Cleveland, Dayton and Akron — which also has a strong in-store presence with the HealthSpot Health station, a self-contained, private consultation “pod.”

It all points to a new “O” word for the industry to buzz about for a while. Hold onto your iPads as we enter the brave new world of Omnichannel Health.

“Our society truly values anytime, any where convenience,” said Adam Pelegrini, Walgreens divisional VP digital health. “And with a growing need for access to affordable healthcare services, we believe telehealth solutions can play an important role in helping to improve patient outcomes, and continues our mission to provide a seamless, omnichannel digital health experience.”

Besides being a really cool thing to say that makes me feel smarter just writing about it now, what exactly does Omnichannel Health mean, and what does it look like?

Pelegrini expanded a bit in an April interview. “As we look at digital health, we see it as an omnichannel experience, meaning that it’s not just about the digital technology and the neat and cool things around apps,” Pelegrini told Healthcare IT News. “It’s about how all of those things layer on top of our brick-and-mortar stores.”

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Survey: Stress keeps Americans up at night

BY Michael Johnsen

You don’t need a poll to know that sleep, or rather the lack thereof, has become a big deal for Americans. According to IRI, Americans spent more than $439.6 million on nonprescription sleeping remedies for the 52 weeks ended April 19 in U.S. multi-outlets. Those sales were up 5.9% compared with the year-ago period.

That’s nothing to yawn at.

The fact is, Americans aren’t getting enough sleep from Sunday. On average, it’s taking more than an hour for adults to fall sleep after climbing into bed Sunday night, according to a Harris Poll commissioned by Procter & Gamble of more than 2,000 adults.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult employee is getting to bed five minutes before 11 p.m., and waking 7 hours and 43 minutes later. That might sound good, given that the NSF recommends people get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. However, more than one-third of Americans report their sleep quality as “poor” or only “fair.” And 1-in-4 women report not feeling well-rested at all in the previous four days, compared with 16% of men, NSF reported.

So, what’s keeping them up at nights? Stress. That’s what 68% of respondents pointed to as the reason they’re not getting enough sleep. And 29% reported that not getting enough sleep on Sunday impacted their performance throughout the week.

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