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Take this: A story of pharmacy

  • 14 April 2023
Metformin 1 My pharmacist is hardly a barrel of laughs. He is conscientious, dutiful and focussed. I would like him to speak at my funeral. He would only need to read a list of my medications, noting the changes of dosage that have been required over the many years of our professional relationship. I’m sure he believes that would tell my story.

Top of the list would be metformin, my twice daily companion for 25 years or more. Metformin is as cheap as chips. It is the seventh most-commonly prescribed drug in Australia, with over five million scripts written for it every year. It languishes in the list just behind the most popular anti-depressant. The top five all deal with problems exacerbated by eating unwisely: cholesterol, gastric reflux, indigestion. The leader board of drugs says as much about a country as any other catalogue you care to name. For example, the economic transformation of parts of India is visible, in the last five years, in diabetic medicine suddenly outselling antibiotics. Metformin is the entry level drug for people with Type 2 diabetes, which is usually caused by what my doctor refers to as lifestyle. Desk job syndrome. Donut syndrome. Pub syndrome. It enables the insulin produced by your long suffering pancreas to work even harder.

‘Have you had this before?’ asks my pharmacist solemnly. He operates a cavernous franchise which specialises in cheap perfume. He would make an excellent funeral director. The mourners could collect their medication on the way out, something to ease the grief.


My mother was a pharmacist. She knew all her customers and their stories as well. When Mum died, a man who used to deliver medicine for her when he was a kid dropped everything to come to her funeral. By then he was well into sprawling middle age, a possible candidate for metformin himself, and the father of a clan. He said that mum had been one of the biggest influences on his life. Her advice for dealing with people had stood by him. I wondered what the advice was and what they spoke about as he headed off on his bike to deliver tranquillisers around a tranquil suburb. I wish I had spoken to Mum more. She always referred to difficult customers as ‘pills’. Perhaps this was because they were hard to take.

I know that Mum was concerned by the use of sedatives, especially by women, especially