In the Wake of Katrina, Chain Pharmaciesand Drug Companies Join Forces

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0,0

The pharmaceutical industry is acompetitive business. Yet, competitionwas put aside leading upto and after Hurricane Katrina ravagedLouisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.Pharmacy retailers and drug manufacturersjoined forces to help those inneed. Relief efforts included monetarycontributions, necessary medications,and supplies to help survivors getthrough one of the worst natural disastersin American history.

The relief efforts have been no easytask. Tens of thousand of hurricane survivorshad to be evacuated to shelterswithout basic necessities. The pharmacyindustry saw a need and continuesto do everything possible to ensurethat individuals are getting their medications.Members of the NationalAssociation of Chain Drug Stores tookswift action.

Calling it a "time of immense participationwith a lot of pharmacies workingtogether," Registered PharmacistBob DuFour, director of Pharmacy,Professional Services, and GovernmentRelations at Wal-Mart, has been commendedfor his leadership. With theeye of the storm heading straight forNew Orleans, La, Wal-Mart pharmacists,as well as other retail pharmacists,worked around the clock filling prescriptionsfor residents evacuating thecity. It was only the beginning of theefforts.

What came next was stepping up themagnitude of help for individuals whodid not have enough medication andfor hospitals running short of supplies.Many of the retail pharmacies alongthe Gulf Coast were under water orcompletely destroyed. DuFour knewthat Wal-Mart alone could not handlethe demands from hospitals, local andstate organizations, state and local RedCross, and other organizations. Heorganized a network of retailers (eg,CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens) to developorganized ways to handle responsibilitiesand get medications to individualsacross the country.

DuFour was able to get the Texas,Louisiana, and Mississippi pharmacystate boards to allow pharmacists todispense medications deemed necessarywithout a physician's orders. "Weset up conference calls with retailers tocoordinate efforts for all shelters. Theeffort included Wal-Mart and otherretailers adopting a shelter and helpingto determine [people's] medicationneeds and making sure they got theirmedicine," he said. Part of the effortinvolved mobile pharmacies.

Amanda Jenkins, PharmD, whoworks at the Wal-Mart in Monroe, La,coordinated with Dr. Lamar Pritchard,dean of the University of Louisiana atMonroe College of Pharmacy, andpharmacy students. The group went tothe Monroe Civic Center to assess theneeds of evacuees. The school calledthe prescriptions in to Dr. Jenkins,according to DuFour.

"The pharmacist response was unbelievable," DuFour said. "They are thereal heroes, staying late at the pharmacyto make sure people had their medicines.We coordinated the efforts andcame up with the ideas. They [thepharmacists] are the ones who executedit," he said.

Rite Aid, like other retailers, is openingmore stores every day in the affectedareas. As of press time, 40 Rite Aidvolunteers had gone to those areas tohelp reopen Rite Aid stores and fill prescriptions.The retailer also set up 3temporary mobile pharmacies to fillthe need for prescription and pharmacyservices. The sites included Mobile,Ala; D'Iberville, Miss; and Waveland,Miss. Rite Aid has been sending productdonations at the request of the RedCross. "We are trying to work withevery request that comes in," said JodyCook, Rite Aid spokeswoman.

CVs' 2 satellite pharmacy operationsat the Astrodome in Houston, Tex,filled 20,000 prescriptions for 7000individuals taking refuge. Of the prescriptionsneeded, 90% were filledwithin the first 72 hours of the operation.The retailer recently completedits mobile pharmacy operations at theHouston Astrodome because all of theevacuees were moved to other facilities.The retailer also set up 2 othermobile pharmacies in the state: at theConvention Center in Austin and atKelly Air Force Base in San Antonio.

"All of our industry peers, alongwith state and local agencies, are cooperatingwith one another to make suremedicines are getting to patients whoneed them and not duplicating services.We are deeply concerned for ourcustomers and employees, and we willkeep on doing everything we can toassist in the recovery effort," said MikeDeAngelis, CVS spokesman.

Walgreens has filled >300,000 prescriptionsfor hurricane evacuees in all45 states where the retailer operates.Because many evacuees are being relocatedto other parts of states,Walgreens pharmacies have been filling2 and 3 times their regular volumeof prescriptions.

To meet the increased demand, theretailer has been using technology to fillprescriptions faster. The companyreceived special permission from pharmacystate boards in affected areas—including Mississippi, Louisiana, andAlabama—to use the new function of itsInterCom Plus computer system on anemergency basis. The advanced systemhad been tested only in some Floridamarkets beginning in early 2005. Thecompany had introduced the computerpharmacy system in 1997.

"After the hurricane hit, we saw howbusy our stores in the Gulf Coast were,and we saw an opportunity," saidMichael Polzin, spokesman forWalgreens.

Here is how the system works. If aparticular pharmacy is busy, a technicianscans a handwritten prescriptionand then electronically sends it to aless busy Walgreens pharmacy. Theinformation is entered into thepatient's electronic record, and a pharmacistchecks to make sure that thepatient will not have any adverse reactionto any medication. The systemthen sends the prescription back to theoriginal store, where it is filled.

"This system was not designed forthe aftermath of a hurricane. However,we have gotten a lot of feedback fromour pharmacists about how it helped.We have no timetable on how long wewill use it on an emergency basis. Wedo plan to launch the new function inall our stores but do not know when." Polzin added.

Retailers and hospitals would nothave been able to accomplish everythingthey have done without the helpof various drug manufacturers. Asidefrom monetary contributions, thecompanies provided free medicationsto hurricane survivors and replacedmedications donated to shelters andhealth care facilities.

Novo Nordisk immediately respondedwith diabetes care. In addition to its$1 million aid donation, the companyis providing insulin products andadvanced delivery devices to help reliefefforts. The health care company hasdesignated 50% of the monetary donationto provide immediate care forpatients with diabetes. The remainderof the funds will be donated to the RedCross toward its general relief efforts.

Novo Nordisk will provide itsinsulin products and delivery devices,including prefilled insulin pens thatcan be used for a short time withoutrefrigeration. Because insulin shouldbe stored in a cold place before beingadministered to patients, the companyhas a system in place to provide clinicsand shelters with refrigerators and generators.

On September 1, 2005, Eli Lilly andCo loaded its corporate jet with 1600lb of products, from first aid supplies tomedications, for Hancock MedicalCenter in Bay Saint Louis, Miss, saidcompany spokesman Edward Sagebiel.The company is shipping products to40 centers in 10 different states. Lillyalso is working with retailers to dispensefree medications to individualsin need. "We are looking at its effect ona weekly basis to determine how longit will continue," he said.

He said that immediately followingthe storm "there was an acute need forinsulin products." The company hasdonated $1 million in insulin for thosein need in the affected areas. All productdonations are being coordinatedthrough Heart to Heart and the RedCross.

Another area that requires attentionis the mental health of survivors."What we are seeing now is a need formental health treatment and moremaintenance medications for patientstaking mental health medicines." As aresult, the company has donated mentalhealth treatment medications tovarious hospitals, health care facilities,and clinics in the affected areas.

"What has been unique from abroader corporate standpoint is howcorporations are working together," observed Sagebiel. "[Lilly] feels privilegedto have contributed."

AstraZeneca also is putting some ofits efforts into the mental health area.The company is supporting theNational Council for CommunityBehavioral Healthcare (NCCBH)Project Helping Hands. The project isan emergency psychiatric assistanceprogram to aid community mentalhealth centers in states across thecountry that are reaching out to displacedand relocated individuals withserious mental illness. NCCBH hascenters in Alabama, Louisiana,Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee, Utah,Arizona, and Texas.

"As a company, we are committed tomental health," said Carla Burigatto,director of media relations for the company."Our partnership with NCCBH isa natural fit for us because mentalhealth support and treatment are acore piece of our company focus.AstraZeneca is committed, just like thebroader health community, to helppeople affected by Hurricane Katrina.We are watching the situation unfoldeach day."

The company also announced thatit will provide up to $5 million in freemedication to Hurricane Katrina survivors.

On an emergency supply, Pfizer madeits medications available to individualswho lost access to their Pfizer medications.The emergency basis ended onSeptember 30, 2005. The company alsojoined efforts with hospitals and medicalinstitutions in Texas and Louisianato make sure that no one goes withoutmedication. In conjunction with donatingmedicines, the company willreplenish Pfizer products for free.

"We at Pfizer are committed to helpingimprove people's lives. Pfizer has along tradition of helping those inneed. When disaster strikes, we havebeen there early and responding," saidDarla Taylor, company spokeswoman.

"When you look at the magnitudeof what happened and the response, itis a tremendous coordination of effortby relief organizations to help take careof people's immediate needs," addedTaylor.