Joe and Terry Graedon
Proprietors of The People’s Pharmacy
By Kurt Dusterberg
Photo courtesy of the Graedons
If you’ve ever done a bit of fact-finding about treating a medical issue, there’s a good chance you have come across Joe and Terry Graedon.
The husband-and-wife team are the proprietors of The People’s Pharmacy, a multimedia endeavor that examines health issues, including the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as home remedies. The People’s Pharmacy radio show is syndicated to more than 150 NPR stations, and their newspaper column appears in daily papers across the country. The website has more than 140,000 subscribers.
Joe, a pharmacologist, began his media career in 1976 while promoting his first book of the same name. That led to doing commentaries on WUNC. A regular show followed four years later, with Terry, a medical anthropologist, joining the program.
Midtown Magazine: How big of an undertaking is The People’s Pharmacy radio show, plus working through all the information that is submitted?
Terry: We have at least an hour on Monday when we meet with our producer, then probably an hour to two hours on Tuesday, getting ready for Wednesday, when we record. Then with the live show we put in an extra two hours. Maybe 10 hours per week for each of us.
Joe: Last Saturday, we got up at 5:30am, we were in the studio by 6:30am, and we left the studio around 9am. If there’s a guest, there’s book reading that has to be done. There’s also what we call “continuity,” which is the script we work from. It’s something that we’re passionate about and we really love. When you put a lot of energy into something you really care about, that’s really cool.
MM: That’s just one facet of your media reach. How do you approach your other ventures?
Terry: We also write three newspaper columns a week. The website is kind of driving the train at this point. We do a lot of work with the website. We’re able to do e-commerce, and that helps.
Joe: We have some very diverse platforms. We have about 1.5 million unique visitors to the website each month. They’re from all over the world. Many of them have no idea that we write a newspaper column or that we’re on a radio show or that we have books. We run into people around here who think of us only as newspaper columnists.
MM: How did you fashion yourself into radio hosts?
Joe: When my book was a success, I crisscrossed the country. And the most fun was talk radio, where you got to sit across from a really articulate host who had some idea of what you had done. You got to engage with that person for an hour or more. It wasn’t too long after that that I realized I needed some steadying participation [on the radio show], because the first couple of years was really awful. It’s one thing to be a guest; it’s a whole other thing to be a host. A friend told me the secret is just to listen, just pay attention to what the callers are saying. That’s when we went to once a week, and that’s when Terry joined the show. She’s a great listener.
Terry: I think he’s probably giving me a little bit more credit than I deserve.
At first I thought of my role as being Joe’s foil. But it turned out that I also liked to ask questions and participate. I am a medical anthropologist, and I had already spent time in the field in Mexico talking to people about what they do when they don’t feel well. People used home remedies and herbs; that’s what they had access to for the most part. They didn’t run to the pharmacy immediately. It seemed to me that it was perfectly legitimate if we could find home remedies that would be helpful.
MM: You take on a lot of personal responsibility with this job, giving proper information and good guidance. Is that something you are conscious of all the time?
Terry: It is an enormous responsibility, and we take it very seriously. We do try to point out that there might be risks involved. We remind people that the most important ingredient in any home remedy is common sense. We try make sure that people are aware that most anything they take can have side effects.
Joe: That’s true across any of our platforms. We have to always encourage people to check with a health professional if there are any questions.
MM: Are you ever concerned whether you are giving the best advice possible?
Joe: A lot of times we get questioned by health professionals asking, where is the evidence? Where is the science behind some of this stuff you talk about? We try as hard as we can to find the science, because often there is evidence behind remedies and herbs. We try to bring objectivity as best we can.
MM: Are there any subjects that are especially important to you?
Terry: We’ve come into a certain amount of criticism among health care professionals because there are classes of drugs that we think are overprescribed and overused with too little attention to the potential hazards, like the acid-suppressing drugs like Nexium and Prilosec, so we write about them pretty often, and it irritates the doctors to no end. We also write about the downsides of statins, and the fact that the evidence does not really support the use of statins for primary prevention – the prevention of an initial heart attack in a healthy person. That, too, tends to irritate the physicians.
Joe: There’s another area we are fairly passionate about. We used to be huge proponents of generic drugs. We just beat the drums for generics because they save you tons of money and they are identical to the brand names.
Terry: At some time around 2002, we interviewed a bunch of people at the FDA to find out how generic drugs were approved and monitored. What we discovered is their process is nowhere near as thorough and complete as we would want it to be.
Joe: While we haven’t completely given up on generic drugs, we caution people and health professionals that they may not be as safe and effective as the FDA would like us all to believe.
MM: Does anyone ever tell you that you have good NPR voices?
Terry: Sometimes people say, “I really like listening to you. Your voice is so soothing.” There are other people who write to us and say, “Your voice is so irritating that I can’t stand to listen to you.”
Joe: There are people who say, “Terry is like sitting across the kitchen table having a cup of coffee with me.” And there are people who say, “Joe, just shut up and let Terry talk!” We run into people around here, and they hear us talk, at the farmers’ market for example, and they’ll say, “I recognize that voice: you’re Terry Graedon! I love your show.”
MM: You are accustomed to working together in so many projects. How do you like that?
Joe: You cannot fake a relationship. We’ve been married 46 years. We are together most of the time 24 hours a day. I feel uncomfortable when she’s gone. When we work on the columns on the computer, we work at the same computer, just changing seats periodically. People sense that we really do respect and love each other. I think they hear that on the radio.
MM: What kind of interests do you have outside of your professional lives?
Terry: We like to take our dogs for walks. We live out in the country and we have a little garden. It’s not a lot because the deer come and eat it. We like to eat; I like to cook. Joe is passionate about tennis, and I like to do karate.
Joe: She’s being modest. She has a black belt and was elevated to the level of sensei. She’s quite accomplished, and I always feel safe when she’s at my side. For me, tennis goes back about 60 years. When I know I have a tennis match coming up, it kind of changes my whole outlook on life. It makes life wonderful.
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