Drug policy raises questions • The Yellow Springs News

Kent Zellner, chief pharmacist at Yellow Springs Pharmacy, had pulled the Plan B emergency contraceptive, also known as the “morning after pill,” from store shelves, citing personal religious beliefs. Zellner has since resigned. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

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Editor’s note, March 25: The News has since learned that Zellner had resigned from his position as a pharmacist. In a follow-up call this week, he told the News he gave his two-week notice five weeks ago and would continue to work at the pharmacy until the company hires a another pharmacist. He reportedly informed staff of his resignation at the end of last week.

Recent changes to the downtown pharmacy raise questions about the business at the northeast corner of Xenia Avenue and Glen Street.

The site of a pharmacy for more than 90 years, the store has been owned since 2018 by Florida-based pharmaceutical company Benzer, which markets itself as an independent alternative to large chains while operating more than 120 pharmacies in 16 states.

A letter to the editor alerting the News to a change in policy regarding the availability of what are colloquially known as Plan B contraceptives at the local pharmacy led to a closer look at the company which revealed issues. with the parent company. (See page 4 of the March 17, 2022 print edition of the News for the letter.)

Concerns about the company have already been raised. The disgruntled resignations of full-time and part-time pharmacists in the fall of 2019 raised alarm bells at the time which was temporarily quelled by a change in the company’s supplier and a refocus on proximity service in early 2020 A newly hired pharmacist, Jeremy Nestor, appeared to be settling into the manager role, and Benzer Ohio regional manager Chris Lenz assured the company had turned a corner and was stabilizing after a period of growth. too fast.

Since then, at least one further staff turnover has occurred, although the changes have gone relatively unnoticed amid the pandemic lockdown and subsequent COVID-19 protocols. Nestor appears to have moved out in mid-2020, according to state pharmacist records; and Lenz was fired in February 2020 as part of a massive company reorganization that included the firing of all of its regional managers, according to an in-depth investigation into Benzer’s practices by Time magazine published last October.

The newest pharmacist is Kent Zellner, 62, of Tiffin, Ohio. Zellner owned and operated the Zellner Pharmacy in downtown Tiffin for nine years, until it closed in 2014, according to online records, which also show he became part owner of ZellMay Construction the same year. A graduate of Ohio State University, he held other pharmacist positions before opening his own store.

Zellner apparently makes the two-hour, fifteen-minute one-way trip between Tiffin and Yellow Springs every business day. He declined a full interview, but responded to the concern raised by the letter writer.

Zellner confirmed that he stopped carrying Plan B contraceptives to the pharmacy.

“They are against my religious beliefs,” he said.

State law allows him to make this call.

A number of states have passed so-called “conscience” legislation in recent years, giving pharmacists the latitude to make personal decisions about the drugs they dispense. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed a similar provision last summer.

Plan B medication, sometimes called the “morning after pill,” is a brand name for levonorgestrel, a hormonal drug that can prevent pregnancy if taken after sex, usually within three days, although some brands claim up to five days of effectiveness. Brand names besides Plan B include Mirena, Kyleena, Afera, Option-2, Skyla, Next Choice One Dose, EContra EZ, Fallback Solo, and Opcicon One-Step.

The medicine prevents the release of an egg from the ovary or prevents the egg from being fertilized by sperm. Medical sources say that it can also alter the lining of the uterus to prevent the development of pregnancy.

Opponents have labeled it an abortion pill, while many medical professionals classify levonorgestral as a form of emergency contraception to be taken after unprotected sex or when regular contraception fails. The drug is usually available over the counter, but some brands require a prescription.

Local customers say they got the drugs at the Kroger Pharmacy on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road after being turned away at the Yellow Springs store.

Finding out more about Benzer’s current operations and contacting a regional representative for information are challenges. The company appears to have erased or deleted much of its online presence. Its old site no longer exists and no new site has taken its place. The company’s LinkedIn and Wikipedia pages have only a summary description and include an inline link that redirects visitors to an error page. The company’s Facebook page appears to have been deactivated and the company’s contact information found online leads to a local pharmacy in Tampa.

A visit to the Yellow Springs Pharmacy shows no evidence of his association with Benzer, and Benzer’s relatively new exterior signage has been replaced with a Yellow Springs Pharmacy sign.

The store appears to be understaffed — Zellner was alone in the store recently after a pharmacy technician called in sick, and hours have been reduced to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Benzer recently advertised on online job boards for a “floating” part-time pharmacist in Ohio whose coverage area would include Yellow Springs.

The recent Time magazine article exposed a host of irregularities at the company, including lawsuits against some of its top executives for fraud and illegal drug distribution. However, none of the fees have ever been tied to Yellow Springs’ location, and most online customer reviews express appreciation for the “friendly” service they find there.

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