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Are the French falling out of love with their pharmacies?

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Are the French falling out of love with their pharmacies?
Photo: The LEAF Project/Flickr
17:28 CEST+02:00
There's been a steady decline in the number of pharmacies in France, and it looks like it's going to continue.
No French high street would be complete without a flashing green neon cross denoting the local pharmacy. Often you can find two or three dotted along a single road, each one crammed with a huge array of medicines, skin creams and beauty products packed into nondescript little boxes.  
 
While pharmacy chains like Boots and Superdrug have monopolised streets across the channel in the UK, pharmacies in France tend to be small and private. Their prevalence (in 2015 there were more than 22,000 across the country) reflects France's long-lasting love affair with drugs. 
 
The French are one of the world's most enthusiastic pill-poppers, in fact. Look into a French person's medical cabinet and you'll likely find an apothecary in miniature, full of pills and potions for every conceivable ailment. 
 
A 2014 study by France's National Safety Agency found that nearly one third of French people used some sort of psychotropic drug alone. Investigative reporter Guy Hugnet, author of Psychotropic Drugs, the Investigation, lamented French medical orthodoxy by saying that "medicine is a religion that cannot be questioned". 
 
Photo: Fredrik Rubensson/Flickr
 
But despite their ubiquity – and France's enthusiasm for drugs - French pharmacies are in lacklustre health. The number of pharmacies has been plunging steadily for the last ten years – with nearly a thousand disappearing - and the rate of change is accelerating year on year.
 
In 2015, a pharmacy closed its doors for good every two days, compared to one every three days in 2014. The départements of central France's Corrèze and Orne and Haute-Marne to the north have been among those most affected by the decline. 
 
In 2015, bankruptcy only accounted for ten percent of closures; the rest were due to a difficulty in finding qualified people to replace retiring chemists.
 
More and more baby-boomer chemists are reach the retirement age, while fewer and fewer pharmacy students are choosing the dispensary stream, opting instead for the pharmaceutical industry or work in hospitals. 
 
The number of chemists reaching the retirement age of 65 is due to triple by 2021, so the sickly state of French pharmacies is unlikely to improve any time soon.
 
Who knows, it might be your local pharmacy that goes next. The good news - for now at least - is that there's probably another one on the next corner. 
 
By Imogen Wallace

Photo: Fredrik Rubensson/Flickr

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