National pharmacy chain Rite Aid has filed for bankruptcy in an effort to close unprofitable stores and deal with nearly $4 billion in debt. The company said in court filings that it plans to close an unspecified number of stores in 17 states.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
But Rite Aid is far from the only major pharmacy chain facing closure. Walgreens and CVS have collectively closed more than 1,000 stores nationwide since 2018. Independent pharmacies are also struggling to stay afloat: The number of these stores is set to decline 50% from 1980 to 2022, according to a McKinsey report.
This trend has been happening for years: Nearly 1 in every 8 pharmacies closed between 2009 and 2015, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine study.
What do all these closures mean for the people who rely on these pharmacies, and what are your options if your local pharmacy closes? The doctor breaks it.
How does reduced access to pharmacies affect health?
When pharmacies close, it can create so-called pharmacy deserts – areas where residents live at least 10 miles from the nearest pharmacy. “This leaves a gaping hole for a lot of people — and it could impact access to vaccines and essential medicines,” Dr. David Holmes tells Yahoo Life. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Director of Global Health Education at the University at Buffalo.
Stephen Crystal, director of the Rutgers Center for Health Services Research, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: “Problems with pharmacy access can certainly impact health, particularly when pharmacies are in underserved areas — including rural areas and Including both underserved inner city areas.” She is particularly concerned about people’s lack of access to antiretroviral drugs. “Laps in use may lead to the development of resistant viruses, such as antiviral-resistant HIV viruses in people with HIV,” he says. “Other medications of particular concern include medications for opioid use disorder, because when individuals do not fill their prescriptions on time they may begin using illicit drugs.”
Pharmacy closures can affect both long-term and short-term health. Dr. Utebe R. Essien is an assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He tells Yahoo Life: “If someone has insurance and a health care provider, but can’t actually take their medication, study after study has shown that it results in poor adherence and, ultimately, poor health. There are health consequences.” Essien says people will often try to space out their medications, take them at long intervals or not take them at all, and this can have serious consequences.
For short-term illnesses like the flu, COVID-19 and bacterial infections, “patients can’t sit around and wait for some of these drugs,” Essien says. Crystal agrees. “Delaying medications such as antibiotics can be a serious problem, as the infection can quickly get out of control,” he says. Essien says not getting medications on time increases the risk that patients may come in contact with others or have to stay home from work longer. “This could put jobs at risk,” he says.
Jamie Allen, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Life that remaining pharmacies often struggle to meet increased demand when their counterparts are closed — and that has an even greater toll on people’s health. There may be an impact. “The remaining pharmacies will be completely overwhelmed,” she says. “Pharmacies are turning up volumes with incredibly small staffs in order for companies to make more profit. This is very dangerous and can result in serious errors. “Can happen.”
Who has been impacted the most?
While experts say everyone can be affected by pharmacy desert, some groups are more affected than others. Research has found that pharmacies with large customer bases on public insurance are at the greatest risk of closing, which does not reimburse pharmacies as much as private health plans.
“This has a significant impact on underserved, underrepresented and rural communities,” says Essien.
Allen says it can also be “difficult” for older adults who are less Internet-savvy and therefore struggle to use online prescription delivery services or even find a new pharmacy. . “Phone wait times are already incredibly long – if you can even get through on the phone – and pharmacies will be even busier,” she says.
What to do if your local pharmacy is closed?
One option is to use a mail-order pharmacy for long-term medications, Allen says. She adds, “Some pharmacies will also mail prescriptions and/or have a delivery service, but this requires some checking on your part to see if anyone near you will do this.
Crystal says grocery stores and big-box retailers often have pharmacies you can visit, too. “However, they are generally less accessible than Rite Aids and CVS,” he says.
Essien recommends talking to your prescribing doctor, who may have information about the best place near you to get the medication you need. Ultimately, however, experts agree that pharmacy closings are not good for overall health. “Access to life-saving medicines is incredibly important,” says Essien.