FINTAN MOORE TAKES AN IMAGINARY TRIP INTO THE BOARDROOM WHERE PACKAGING DESIGNS ARE APPROVED

I would like you to picture the following scene — it’s the meeting room for the marketing department of a large pharma company. The head of marketing is awaiting his hot-shot packaging designer to arrive to get the stamp of approval on a new FMD-compliant pack for one of the company’s bestselling products. He takes another sip of his triple-espresso. He doesn’t even like coffee, but he didn’t rise to the top by drinking namby-pamby things like
tea. Seated to his left is his most devoted ‘yes-man’. The person to his right is more of a problem — Mary is a transition-year student in for a week’s work experience with the irritating trait of pointing out really obvious problems rather than keeping quiet and nodding. He’d get rid of her, but she’s the boss’s niece.

The door opens and Miguel the designer enters, carefully carrying a stack of four white boxes, each about the size
of a shoe-box. (Miguel isn’t actually a Miguel — his birth cert calls him Michael O’Riordan, but who ever heard of a design genius called Michael O’Riordan?) So Miguel ebulliently greets the waiting trio and places the boxes on the boardroom table.

‘So, my wonderful people, these are the new packs that I just know you will find as delightful as I do. I have incorporated the vital features needed to make them meet the demands of the MSG legislation. ‘Do you mean FMD?’ enquired the head of marketing.

‘Yes, of course… you are so clever, sir. Do you have any questions?’

‘These boxes look very big — I presume they are just demos to illustrate the design?’ ‘Oh no, sir, these are the actual packs. We decided that making them bigger would give our product more shelf space, so it
would keep it in the pharmacist’s mind to buy more.’

‘Intriguing. I like it, Miguel. Why are they all white?’ ‘Ah, but they are not entirely white. If you look carefully, you will see that we have the QR code for the product on all six sides of the pack, so it will be more efficient for the
pharmacist to scan them. We think they will really appreciate that, rather than having to turn the pack around to find the code.’

‘Excellent, Miguel. But shouldn’t the name of the product also be on the pack?’ ‘It is, sir. It is here on one of the sides.’ ‘Yes, I see it now — I thought it was just a speck of dirt. Should you not have a different colour for each strength of the product to help distinguish them from each other?’

‘But I have. If I turn them to the light, you can see that the 5mg is navy blue, the 10mg is dark blue, the 20mg is royal blue, and the 40mg is a different shade of navy blue.’

‘That’s perfect. What are the packs made of — it doesn’t look like cardboard.’

‘Well spotted, sir. Nothing gets past you.

I used Styrofoam to make the packs. Apparently, pharmacists had been complaining that a lot of new WMD-compliant packs are impossible to reclose once they are opened, so I decided to remove the ambiguity with our packs. Once they are opened, they disintegrate into small pieces so there is no uncertainty.’

‘Very good, Miguel — this is some of your best work. What about the environmental impact of Styrofoam?’

‘I can modestly claim that this innovation of mine has worked to save us a fortune — because other companies are moving away from environmentally-damaging packaging, we can now buy the Styrofoam at a
much lower price than before. More profits, bigger bonus! Any other questions?’

Mary had sat silently through all this, and now piped up ‘Hi Miguel, have you shown the new
packs to any pharmacists to see what they think of them?’

Miguel and the other adults smiled indulgently at the innocence of youth, before the head of marketing explained: ‘We find that pharmacists can be an awkward bunch, to put it nicely, and if we ask their opinion they tend to start raising problems, so we just get on with marketing and packaging, and let them get on with doing what they do.’

‘Hi Miguel, have you shown the new packs to any pharmacists to see what they think of them?’

Mary then asked: ‘So is there any Government agency that checks the packs to see if they’re okay before they go out to be used, and that could say the packs aren’t good enough?’ Despite their best efforts, the grown-ups couldn’t contain themselves and they burst into laughter that grew ever louder and more uproarious, until tears rolled down their cheeks.

THE OTHER FRONTLINE

With all the pandemic-inspired mayhem of the last 12 months, it’s been easy to forget that other problems existed before Covid-19, and will still be here after it. One of these is the ever-present issue of illicit drug use, and the criminal economy associated with it. Every pharmacy in the country has probably been affected in some way, but particularly pharmacists in the greater Dublin area are very much in the line of fire on this one. It’s a safe bet that every pharmacy in the region has experienced some form of criminality, ranging from shoplifting, to burglary, to armed raids.

Despite huge resources and effort by the gardaí over the last 40 years, nothing has improved. Individual drug gangs rise and fall, but there is always a queue of others waiting to fill any gap because the profits
being made are too attractive to ignore. Much of these profits derive from the sale of cannabis, which has been decriminalised in some countries, and legalised in others.

It is time that this country thought about going down the same path. Legalising cannabis is not without
problems, but the resulting tax revenue can be used to address those, while starving violent drug dealers of much of the market that gives them power and influence. Given that pharmacists are often victims of the failed status quo, we should start by debating among ourselves what we would change. We often feel that our voices are undervalued but in this area, we should at least be raising them.

<strong>Fintan Moore</strong>
Fintan Moore

Fintan Moore graduated as a pharmacist in 1990 from TCD and currently runs a pharmacy in Clondalkin.