can hotels dispense aspirin complimentarily, like razors or toothpaste?
August 21, 2008 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Is there a reason the hotel I stayed at offered toothpaste, toothbrushes and razors to guests who forgot them, but not aspirin?

We were staying at a "four diamond" hotel in Toronto last night, and I woke up about 1am with a wicked headache.

I went down to the front desk to see if they had any aspirin/Tylenol/whatever, since I hadn't packed any, and was told they were sorry, but the gift shop had closed and the convenience store across the street was also closed and that I was out of luck.

So, all I could do was put a cold cloth on my head and wait it out for the next six hours, until the gift shop opened and I could buy a ($10) bottle of Excedrin.

All I could think during that time was that they offered complimentary toothbrushes, toothpaste and razors to guests who forgot theirs (and who could easily purchase them in the gift shop or from the convenience store across the street), but they couldn't give me two measly aspirin when I was desperate for them. (The hotel had no vending machines either.)

The only reasons I could figure were that (a) there is some law that prohibits the hotel from dispensing medicine to guests, or (b) they're money-grubbing scum who wanted to squeeze $10 out of me for a bottle of Excedrin.

Anyone have an idea?
posted by Lucinda to Travel & Transportation (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
liability. (they are not doctors.)
posted by nitsuj at 8:18 PM on August 21, 2008

Why would they?

Razors, toothpaste etc are things that people use every day. Aspirin, not so much.
posted by pompomtom at 8:20 PM on August 21, 2008

You can kill yourself (okay, maybe not kill, but maybe cause your stomach to bleed) with too much aspirin. You can't kill yourself with too much toothpaste.
posted by unexpected at 8:21 PM on August 21, 2008

They are probably money-grubbing scum who want to limit their liability, especially if you take it and have some allergic reaction.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:22 PM on August 21, 2008

My only question is this: if you're staying in downtown Toronto, you have hundreds of stores open all night long, including many pharmacies that are open 24 hours. Why not cab to one of them (or walk) to get headache relief? I'm more angry with the hotel staff for not *suggesting* this to you!
posted by twiki at 8:26 PM on August 21, 2008

Speaking as a former hotel front desk agent, I would also go with liability.

We were told specifically that even for a guest who wanted a Band-Aid or an aspirin, we were to call the on-site EMTs. The theory was that the EMTs were more qualified to dispense the medical stuff, and if there was something truly serious going on (for example, if maybe you hadn't had a headache but instead an aneurysm and didn't recognize the symptoms) then they might have a chance of getting you the medical assistance that you needed.

I recognize the limitations of EMTs in this instance, and I also recognize that most hotels don't have EMTs on-site 24/7/365. But it did serve to mitigate some of the liability (or so the front desk was told--and people are often unwilling to circumvent policy if they are told their job and a lawsuit are on the line if they do) my hotel faced.

I'm sorry that this hotel was apparently stuck in a bind liability-wise *and* didn't have an EMT on-site, though like I said I don't think it's common for hotels to have them around as often as mine did. Perhaps, with the threat of a lawsuit on the line if something had gone wrong, you'll understand why no one was willing to slip you some aspirin under the table, either.
posted by librarylis at 8:28 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some people are allergic and they would get their faces sued of for dispensing pharmaceuticals when they are not pharmacists, but hoteliers.

YES! I really wanted to use the word "hoteliers" this week, and there we have it.

Metafilter: Where really small dreams are realised, occasionally.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:41 PM on August 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

I work with the public, and we never give out medication, even OTC medication, because we've always been told that it's "dispensing."
posted by Miko at 8:41 PM on August 21, 2008

You can kill yourself (okay, maybe not kill, but maybe cause your stomach to bleed) with too much aspirin. You can't kill yourself with too much toothpaste.

But you can with a razor.

I remember being in the hospital - in labor with my first child - and my husband had a TERRIBLE headache - so he went to the nurse's station and they couldn't dispense any tylenol/asperin/ibuprofen to him.

My point is - that yeah, it's gotta be a liability thing, I guess.

But why is it ok to sell it out of the gift shop? Why not have a stash behind the front desk that you can sell to people who need it?
posted by Sassyfras at 9:13 PM on August 21, 2008

I've killed myself many times with too much razor.

As Sassyfras alludes, however, it's beyond me why they couldn't give you a two-pill pack like convenience stores have, and charge you for it, like any other item. If it's sold to you in a sealed packet, how is it "dispensing"?
posted by dhartung at 9:18 PM on August 21, 2008

Yeah, I'll third the question of why they'd be any more liable for front-desk-dispensed-painkiller mishaps than from gift-shop-dispensed-painkiller mishaps. I'm baffled, really (...unless maybe night-time headaches are more easily bungled by overdose of painkiller than daylight-hour headaches)?
posted by astrochimp at 9:35 PM on August 21, 2008

On second thought, it might be a licensing or tax issue. Free trivial items are probably OK on both those matters, but free drugs might not be...
posted by astrochimp at 9:38 PM on August 21, 2008

Hotels may or may not be liable for things that go wrong with medication they hand out based on their public liability insurance. Presumably the items they do currently provide to their guests are specifically covered under it, if only to absolve them of responsibility should the soap turn out to be full of cyanide or the razors not so safety afer all.

So providing widely available painkillers may or may not be covered under the insurance. Checking whether it is and/or negotiating for its inclusion in the policy is presumably more trouble than it's worth, since it's not regarded as a standard hotel service and many travellers will carry their own and most of the time it's easy to buy them elsewhere.

So I'd say that it's not because they're likely to get sued or that there's some kind of law against it, but that there it doesn't provide a sufficient return on the time and money to make sure that they (and their employees) are covered if someone does sue.
posted by xchmp at 9:49 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

We have a "L'il Drugstore" dispenser in our office kitchen. It has sample size packs of tylenol, aspirin, alka seltzer, etc. I wonder why the liability issue would be any different from a hotel.
posted by mullacc at 10:07 PM on August 21, 2008

It's always easier to say "no."
posted by Dave Faris at 10:20 PM on August 21, 2008

I doubt liability is much of an issue. Schools fall all over themselves on this, but that's with children involved. It's possible that fear of litigation plays a part, but I'd say mostly it's merely convention. Everyone expects toothpaste and razors at a four diamond hotel, and very few would expect aspirin. Tradition is tradition!

They did fail by not helping you connect with any of the many options in downtown Toronto for late-night aspirin.
posted by Bokononist at 10:24 PM on August 21, 2008

I've been at hotels that offer "amenity packs" that include aspirin. And sometimes ibuprofen, though not as much.

And even condoms! Which came in useful once, but that's another story...

I guess it might be something to do with the class of hotel one frequents?
posted by Mephisto at 11:22 PM on August 21, 2008

If there are liability concerns at play here I think they're almost certainly unwarranted. I feel I have the authority to say this because I've been handed free tylenol at Disneyland (allergic to aspirin, so no experiments performed there), and all I had to do was sign away my immortal soul.

Certainly most hotels would be willing to accept your soul as payment for painkillers.
posted by crinklebat at 12:04 AM on August 22, 2008

Pretty much every large business has a huge, regularly restocked, first aid kit complete with aspirin and ibuprofen, among other supplies. I've had some luck in the past getting hotel clerks and similar people in service jobs to show me to the first aid cabinet if it's in a reasonably accessible area and allow me to make my own selection, somewhat bypassing the "dispensing" issue.

Also, some hotels (though, unhelpfully, generally this tends to happen less as the hotel gets nicer) will open up the gift shop for you at night for a much needed item. In the future, you may be able to encourage such behavior on the part of the hotel.
posted by zachlipton at 1:07 AM on August 22, 2008

Apart from patients the Hotel may be equally concerned about getting sued by pharmacists. In some countries the right to sell any drug is closely guarded.
posted by rongorongo at 3:40 AM on August 22, 2008

The previous folks are right about dispensing. If someone comes in my store and wants an aspirin, I can't give it to them. If someone comes in and wants to buy some, well, I could do that. You're really not even supposed to have aspirin/tylenol in your workplace first aid kit, as you're dispensing medication to folks that way. You can get certified to dispense, it's not even very hard, but legally giving aspirin is looked at the say way as giving a shot or popping a naso-pharangeal airway. If you walked up to the counter and said "my hand is sore, can you give me my insulin shot?", would you expect them to help out?

Sort of strange.

This is in the US.
posted by TomMelee at 4:42 AM on August 22, 2008

You're in Toronto, the largest city in Canada—of course you can get aspirin in the middle of the night. A search on the Shoppers web site for 24-hour locations (maybe Rexall has some, but their site won't let me search for them) shows locations at Yonge/College and Yonge/Eglinton (I'm assuming you're staying somewhere near downtown). If they were going to charge $10 for a bottle of painkillers anyway, you might as well pay for a cab to take you there.

Side note: "Aspirin" is still a trademark in Canada, so the non-Bayer stuff is called ASA (or AAS if the French side is facing you).
posted by oaf at 4:45 AM on August 22, 2008

I worked in a concierge-type role for a couple of years, and will echo what's been said above: we were told not to distribute tylenol and similar for liability reasons. I'd guess they were told the same thing.

...unless you were staying at the Hazelton Hotel, whose staff are (with some rare exceptions) just assholes.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:56 AM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers, everyone. I guess next time I'll be sure to pack some painkillers myself. (It looks like the closest Shoppers Drug Mart was about 2/3 km away from the hotel, nice of them to suggest that.)
posted by Lucinda at 5:15 AM on August 22, 2008

I, for one, am allergic to aspirin. It makes my airways close up. Tylenol all the way for me. Given that I am quite not alone in this, I reckon that liability is indeed the chief issue here.
posted by kaseijin at 6:48 AM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: Part 2 of my question, if I may: is there any reason they didn't/couldn't stock it in the minibar, which also contains (potentially dangerous) alcohol?
posted by Lucinda at 7:40 AM on August 22, 2008

Advice will vary for different countries but just about the only time when first aiders are recommended to give somebody an aspirin is when they are suspected of having a heart attack. Feigning one may work but is probably a little too dramatic if you just want headache treatment.

I can't think of a good reason why they could not sell you aspirin in your minibar however. I have certainly seen places that do this.
posted by rongorongo at 8:30 AM on August 22, 2008

(It looks like the closest Shoppers Drug Mart was about 2/3 km away from the hotel, nice of them to suggest that.)

Is that two or three, or two thirds? Out of curiosity, what hotel is this?
posted by oaf at 8:44 AM on August 22, 2008

Response by poster: oaf > that would be two-thirds. The hotel was the Westin Harbour Castle.
posted by Lucinda at 9:01 AM on August 22, 2008

It depends on the hotel and in what country you are staying.

We stayed at The Eden in Rome and we called down for a bottle of Ibuprofren and they brought it up with no questions.
posted by Zambrano at 9:55 AM on August 22, 2008

After pondering this all night long - here's what I think.

I think you need to have a license to sell stuff - any stuff. The gift shop of the hotel holds that license. They are the only ones licensed to sell stuff. I also think that there are laws or whatever in place regarding dispensing medication - as in giving out medication.

The front desk does not have a license to sell goods. They cannot sell stuff to you - thus the free toothpaste and razors. They are not allowed to sell it to you so therefore provide it to you free of charge. I'm sure if they did hold a license to sell the toothpaste to you it would cost an arm and a leg.

Giving out medication - not allowed to do. Selling you medication - are unable to because the front desk does not hold the license to sell stuff.

Although the mini-bar suggestion is an interesting one.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:59 AM on August 22, 2008

If you were specifically looking for Excedrin vs. aspirin I can understand why they wouldn't dispense that OTC drug. It's packed with caffiene. Not everyone can tolerate the caffiene in Excedrin and could end up in the ER due to any reaction caused by taking even the recommended amount.

Toiletries are one thing. Medications, even OTC meds, are another. Sorry you had to tough it out. I know what that's like and have learned to take my Excedrin everywhere I go.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 12:14 PM on August 22, 2008

>Westin Harbour Castle

Hmmm - never had that bad service from them. At the very least they should have assisted you finding out where there was a store/pharmacy - or opening up the internal store, and simply adding a note to your file/clerk in the morning.

I've asked for aspirin on planes and had it "given" to me (probably from the first-aid kit) with no issues.

Sorry, but sounds like clueless staffing issue, I would make a complaint - especially if you frequent the Westin chain often (I do).
posted by jkaczor at 3:01 PM on August 22, 2008

This is a bad hotel, plain and simple. Any decent hotel would have opened the gift shop for you.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:09 PM on August 22, 2008

Oddly, I was just thinking about this while out on my bike ride, and came to the same conclusion as ikkyu2. Lame staff reaction. This is what hotels are for; they really failed you by not offering to run out/send out for you, open the store, or at the very least, told you where the nearest open drugstore was.
posted by Miko at 3:08 PM on August 23, 2008

Response by poster: My husband wrote to the hotel, and their response was, basically - the hotel can't dispense drugs, if they were in a vending machine a kid could get them, and the gift shop is a separately-owned entity from the hotel so the after-hours hotel staff had no access.

However, they are supposed to offer free taxi service to the nearest 24-hour pharmacy, which I did not receive.

They gave us "special preferred guest program points" as compensation, whatever that means.

Perhaps that will be my next AskMe - What can I get with Westin special preferred guest program points?
posted by Lucinda at 3:16 PM on September 3, 2008

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