By Amanda Conschafter, blog editor
Natural disasters can leave community members scrambling for shelter, clean water, food – and their prescription medications. In a recent briefing by PhRMA, representatives from Rx Response, the Health Care Distribution Management Association (HDMA), and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) discussed the collaboration required to ensure that natural disasters don’t become personal health crises for people who cannot access the medications they need.
As patients evacuate their homes in times of extreme weather, some may forget to take along their vital prescription medications. Others may have their medications destroyed through damage to their homes or rendered unusable by extended power outages. As panelists explained, days without crucial medications can lead peoples’ health to deteriorate to the point of needing emergency care – at a time when emergency rooms are already overcrowded, understaffed and potentially lack proper resources.
As Emily Lord of Rx Response explained, treating pharmacies as “critical infrastructure” is necessary for averting these scenarios. To maximize pharmacies’ resilience to natural disasters, Rx Response helps coordinate crucial components of the supply chain, including distributers and manufacturers, along with government partners, emergency management officials and federal agencies. During natural disasters, Rx Response works to ensure that pharmacy stores maintain power and that delivery services have the necessary fuel to transport medications.
Rx Response also provides Rx Open, which transforms data on which pharmacies are open into on an online map for patients’ use. Lord also alluded to the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program, which Lord described as a “very valuable program that not a lot of people know about.” The federal program, activated at the request of the states, helps to process drug and medical equipment claims for federally-identified disaster areas.
Perry Fri of HDMA described how his organization aids Rx Response with prescription drug distribution challenges. HDMA identifies large distribution centers that can respond to local areas’ needs and works with Rx Response and the government to communicate inventory levels. Alex Adams of NACDS echoed the need to coordinate with government officials during times of disaster. “The rules of the game change really quickly,” Adams noted, using the example of New York state after Hurricane Sandy. Though the state had restrictions about which patients could receive vaccines from a pharmacy, the governor waived these restrictions when post-hurricane access to tetanus vaccines presented problems.
All panelists emphasized the need for planning and coordination to ensure that patients continue their health care regimen even during natural disasters.