[Note: This article was originally published in 1997 and I’m still hearing stories on precisely why Rite Aid is Wrong. It’s good to know after all this time the original article still rings true with the authenticity of experience. I have been told by someone claiming to be a Rite Aid pharmacist (who prefers to remain anonymous) that Rite Aid does not allow their pharmacists to edit the physician’s database to correct spelling errors and that pricing isn’t determined locally. I also have been told that Rite Aid owes some of its Managers and Pharmacists thousands of dollars in bonuses and back pay. If true, I don’t understand the reasoning or philosophy behind not paying employees in a timely manner, for it seems that cruel attitude against those who present your public face will have deep and scarring ramifications beyond any surface advertising campaign claiming the merits of caring. My email box is chock full of pain and distress from Rite Aid employees and consumers and I feel for each of you. This article is easily the most popular and highly read piece we’ve ever published in GO INSIDE Magazine and I thank you deeply for sharing your detailed and expert experiences.]

[On October 16, 1999, I was once again disappointed by Rite Aid. We moved to a new location in the Bronx and the only pharmacy around is a brand new Rite Aid in a strip mall. I decided to give Rite Aid another try and report my new findings for you here. My prescription was filled with medication that expired last month! My wife and I looked at each other and couldn’t believe it! Unfortunately, I had already paid for the medication and signed the release form. Luckily, we hadn’t yet left the store and the medication itself and the box it came in both had an embossed expiration date of “9/99” so I knew the medication was old. When I pointed this out to the pharmacist on duty, she tried to tell me it was no big deal. I told her expired medication is a very serious matter. She stared at me. When I told her I wanted my money back and that I didn’t want to lose a refill when they fixed the error, she gave me a blank look. I asked her why Rite Aid ordered me expired medication? She shrugged her shoulders. I knew they didn’t have my medication in stock in the store, so that meant Rite Aid chose to order and send medication from their fulfillment center that was clearly already expired. Wouldn’t the expiration date be the first thing the fulfillment center would check before shipment? Isn’t the expiration date the first thing the local Rite Aid pharmacist would check before filling the script? I wondered aloud with the pharmacist how one could guarantee pills from Rite Aid were, indeed, fresh when there’s no expiration date stamped anywhere for the consumer to check for the expiration? The pharmacist said she’d have fresh medication sent next week. She called over the manager and he gave me back my $20 co-payment. When I asked the manager for the name of someone I could speak with in the future to ensure I get un-expired medication, he said, “I don’t order the medicine. Mistakes happen.” I told him that was a cavalier attitude when it comes to the health of your customers and I told him that an “I’m sorry and it won’t happen again” would’ve done wonders for alleviating a reckless error. He stared at me with a blank look and did not respond. I gave up on asking for a name to contact and decided instead to detail my latest experience for you here.

I checked with my doctor’s office and with the medication manufacturer to report this sorry Rite Aid story of filling a prescription with out dated medication. I was told by both of them the shelf life of that particular medication is at least two years. In checking my previous refill for the same medication (from a pharmacy other than Rite Aid), I discovered the expiration date is “11/00” and I’ve had that medication in hand for at least six months.

I was just informed by someone who read this update and claims to be a Rite Aid insider that it is illegal to sell outdated medication and the magic words to make sure it never happens again are: “I’m writing to the District Attorney’s Office and The Board of Pharmacy.” This claimed insider also told me it was the District Attorney’s office in California who finally were able to force Rite Aid to stop the practice of selling of outdated medication in that state. I’m also told that Rite Aid “dumped PCS mail order prescriptions on retail locations to fill.” It was also suggested to me that if Rite Aid doesn’t offer, I should demand my prescription be filled for free. If all these things I’ve been told are, indeed, true, then each of us must carefully reconsider the role Rite Aid plays in our lives.

On October 18, I returned to Rite Aid for my medication. I was given medication with an expiration date of “9/00” which makes it two months older than the current medication I have had in hand for six months with an expiration date of “11/00.” When I asked the supervising pharmacist if this refill was free since they gave me expired medication the first time, he flatly said, “No.” I repeated that I was told this should be free and he told me it would cost me $20. When I asked him for his supervisor’s name to discuss this matter further, he gave me a first name only. When I asked for the last name and a local phone number, the supervising pharmacist told me to go to the front of the store and look for the “800 number on a poster to call for complaints.” I told him I didn’t want to call an 800 number. I reminded him I asked for the last name and phone number of his local supervisor. He refused to provide the information. I paid my $20, took my medicine, gave the supervising pharmacist a copy of this article, I sought out the general store manager.

The general store manager was much kinder. He gave me the name and local phone number of the supervising pharmacist’s supervisor. When I arrived home, I called the phone number and spoke to a friendly gentleman who confirmed he was the supervising pharmacist’s supervisor and he already appeared to know what had transpired. He apologized for any discomfort I may have had. He said those sort of in-store arguments are always the pharmacist’s fault because customers don’t come into the store looking for a fight. He told me it was not Rite Aid policy to sell expired medication. He told me customers do NOT pay for prescriptions originally filled with expired medication. He told me I was entitled to my $20 co-payment back and he said if I didn’t want to go back to the store to get my money back (I didn’t, and don’t want to ever see or speak to that supervising pharmacist again) he’d “wrap up a twenty” for me and mail it immediately. I took him up on his offer.]

November 13, 1997

Rite Aid Pharmacy is presently running a luscious and expensive national television advertising campaign concerning how deeply they care for your health. They extol the virtues of their online computer prescription network that can refill and manage your medication from any of their pharmacies across our great nation. You’re supposed to feel reassured and protected in this web of love Rite Aid has created for your benefit. I beg to differ with that cozy advertising image.

I confess that I may have high moral standards for pharmacy care. My grandfather was the lone pharmacist in North Loup, a small Nebraska town of 300 people, for over 50 years before his death in 1976. North Loup, Scotia, Ord and other surrounding communities looked to my grandfather for expert care and understanding as he filled prescriptions for their better health. That’s a lot of responsibility for a single man running a storefront pharmacy to bear alone, but bore it, he did. My grandfather wore that challenge well and big, monolithic, pharmacies like Rite Aid could take a warm example from hometown pharmacists like my grandfather who set the daily standard for outstanding prescription healthcare.

The Real Rite Aid
I can tell you from personal experience that the current campaign to soothe and encourage customers is not based in fact at the New York City Rite Aid where I do the business of caring for my health and my wife’s health. I don’t buy the excuse that New York City is a big town where anything goes. That argument doesn’t wash when it comes to filling prescriptions: You can either count on excellence or you bet your life away on inaccurate labeling. My wife and I have repeatedly had to self-check our prescriptions from Rite Aid and correct the Pharmacy Manager who continues, to this day, to unapologetically an unabashedly make mistakes on our prescription labels.

First, The Directions
The first problem with our Rite Aid prescriptions were misspellings and non-English sentence structure in the label directions. This is a problem, because if the English and spelling are wrong, who can claim the numerical dose is accurate? I can correct the Rite Aid Pharmacist when he spells “teaspoons” “reaspoons” but how do I know if “2 reaspoons morning or night” isn’t supposed to read “3 teaspoons morning and night?” I can also try to guess from another Rite Aid prescription label that “1 puffs in each nostril twice daily” probably means “1 puff in each nostril twice daily” but how can I be certain that it might not be two “2 puffs…” instead on a singular puff? Why does Rite Aid make me guess if it is it one puff or two? Do I believe the numeral or the plural word on their label? In a court of law, a witness can be judged on a single mistake — “False in one thing, false in everything” and I claim that, in the court of public opinion, Rite Aid must and shall be judged thusly: “One mistake here leads to distrust everywhere.” If your can’t trust your Pharmacist to fill and label your medication properly, who can you trust? Where is the back-up and cross-checking for labeling accuracy at Rite Aid? In my experience, it does not exist.

Second, The Doctor’s Name
The second disturbing issue with our Rite Aid pharmacist (he’s the manager of the pharmacy department at our store which speaks volumes in that fact alone) is his continued inability to spell the name of our prescribing physician correctly on our labels (which are a part of and printed from the national Rite Aid computer prescription database if I’m correctly understanding their national advertising campaign). I find this habit disturbing, because if my wife or I happen to be injured in an accident and the only thing we are able to speak is the name of our primary care doctor and pharmacy… a check with Rite Aid under our doctor’s name will not show up correctly because our pharmacist has spelled our doctor’s name wrong in their database!

“Does It Really Matter?”
The icing on this notorious Rite Aid cake was delivered to me this morning when I asked our Rite Aid pharmacist why he had, once again, spelled our Doctor’s name wrong on yet another prescription. His reply was simply… “Does it really matter?” Well, my answer is a resounding YES, IT REALLY MATTERS! and it was then I knew the only way to get the word out on what’s happening at Rite Aid was to write this commentary for you so you will have the materials and knowledge to fight for what each American deserves: Fair and Equal treatment across the Rite Aid Pharmacy board. Demand small town values wherever you have your prescriptions filled. Demand that Rite Aid stand up to the claims of their advertising. Demand that, yes, indeed, accuracy in prescription labeling MATTERS!

Rite Aid Corporate
I asked my local Pharmacy Manager for the Corporate Rite Aid headquarters telephone number. He refused five times to give it to me. On the six attempt, he finally gave me a phone number with a Brooklyn/Queens Area Code. I had great doubts that the number he gave me was the phone number I asked for, but I called the number anyway. Sure enough, I discovered this was some district Rite Aid office and not Rite Aid Corporate HQ. After giving my name and number to an operator, I asked for, and was finally given, the Corporate HQ telephone number. I called the number and was transferred to the Press Relations office because I wanted to get an “on the record” quote from them for this article in response to my treatment at the hands of their Pharmacist. I was asked to leave my name and number there, too. I did. As of this writing? No callbacks from anyone at Rite Aid. Am I surprised? Hardly. This is the sort of treatment I’ve come to expect and know from Rite Aid. I now see that attitude is not just harbored and developed in a local Manhattan Rite Aid — this attitude delivers itself all the way to the top of the corporation!

Third, The Prices
Another insult happened a few days ago when I tried to get a 20 pack of Nolahist anti-histamine from the same Rite Aid Pharmacy. The same Pharmacy Manager looked it up in a book and told me I needed a prescription for that medication. When I told them I got Nolahist over-the-counter in Nebraska last Summer without a prescription, he then “checked his book” again and told me he could get it for me without a prescription, but that it would cost me $34.00 and they would have to order it. When I told them a 20 pack of Nolahist costs $6.00 and is perpetually in stock in Nebraska, I was told they couldn’t help me. Huh? A local Lincoln, Nebraska pharmacy has better prices and connections than the national Rite Aid chain? Hard to believe and a harder, bitter, pill, to swallow and I refused to do so. I left my local New York City Rite Aid pharmacy and I called my hometown drugstore in Lincoln, Nebraska and ordered my Nolahist over the phone. I got it the next day in New York City and paid over five times less than what Rite Aid tried to charge me.

Stupid Is As Stupid…
I suppose the lesson for me in this mess is to change pharmacies! It’s a hassle, but why am I giving Rite Aid votes of confidence by giving them my money and continuing to put up with this dangerous service? I need to go back to McKay Drugs in Manhattan. They’re farther away, but what difference does distance make when it comes to safety and service? McKay Drugs has always been stellar in labeling and filling prescriptions and the time for a prodigal return home is now.

Commentary Conclusion
Rite Aid needs better quality control over their Pharmacy Managers and labeling procedures. The important issue here is the penultimate safety of their consumers no matter where they might live. Rite Aid must, at the least, pretend that they care and act accordingly. If we are to believe that Rite Aid is interested in providing the best prescription healthcare possible, we, as consumers, need to vote with our pocketbooks and insurance subsidies to force perfection in filling prescriptions. One wrong move, only one, tiny, indiscretion in labeling, no matter how minor, collapses the inherent trust that Rite Aid begs from us and tries to imply in nationwide advertising campaigns. It our moral duty as husbands, wives, children and parents to demand that Rite Aid belly up to the bar of excellence and treat their customers with the care and love we so rightly and richly deserve.