As The World Enters a "Golden Age" of Medicine, Pharmacy Will Be Hugely Impacted, Suggests NACDS President

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“I've never met a pharmacist who didn't want to improve the health of the American people. That's what they're doing and will be doing well in the future,” Steven C. Anderson tells Pharmacy Times at NACDS TSE, August 12 through 14, 2023, San Diego, California.

Pharmacy Times is excited to be joined by Steven C. Anderson FASAE, CAE, IOM president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), at NACDS Total Store Expo (TSE) 2023, who breaks down the impact of global tensions on drug accessibility, how technology can increase pharmacist bandwidth for individualized services, and how pharmacy can help reduce overall healthcare costs by increasing wellness services.

PT Staff: How are recent world events shaping the retail pharmaceutical landscape (i.e., international drug shortages, emphasis on health and wellness)?

Steven C. Anderson FASAE, CAE, IOM: International trade and global tensions is really having a growing impact on the drug supply chain system, particularly with drug shortages and accessibility to drugs. The drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) was enacted 10 years ago and many of the provisions are going into effect very soon. But the industry really doesn't seem ready for that. And so, we've worked together (NACDS) with the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) to advocate to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have a more tiered-in and stretched out approach to this so that we don't have drug short shortages.

One of the issues that I've become even more concerned about recently is the relationship and the tensions between the United States and China. Not only it’s possible impact of confrontation because of Taiwan, but also in terms of the amount of active pharmaceutical ingredients that come in from China. About 90% of those ingredients come in from China. And it's what makes medicine, medicine. It's a therapeutic aspect of it. And if there's tensions and there's any disruption in that, every medication and every drug would be impacted, from the antibiotics we give our kids to cancer, medications, and everything else. The whole healthcare system could collapse. That is an issue that I'm personally and professionally focusing more on and spreading the word about because you talk to the American people, and they have no idea where these active pharmaceutical ingredients come from. When you tell them, they're shocked [and say things like] “Why don't I know this? This could affect my family and friends tremendously.” So those are probably 2 of the bigger issues that I see right now, but there's lots of other ones out there.

PT Staff: What compelling trends are emerging in the retail market space?

Steven C. Anderson FASAE, CAE, IOM: You know, I think the what's happening in technology is having a profound impact on firms. And I think it really will continue to do in the future, with the use of robotics and central fill facilities that really free up the time for the pharmacist to provide all those services that we've been talking about, over the years. One of the other interesting aspects is what's going on with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, particularly. And I was really struck by an article that was… the cover article in the June 23 issue of the New York Times magazine. The headline was “Suddenly, It Looks Like We Are in a Golden Age of Medicine.”

And with that, I believe that (personally) we are entering a golden age of medical [and] biometric medical research because of machine learning. And we're beginning to know more about the human genome. You have the vaccines; we have mRNA vaccines, and that's going to have a big impact on the pharmaceutical industry and our companies, and I think that's very exciting. I mean, in this article they were quoting researchers, innovators, Nobel laureates, and they said that there's a possibility to find solutions for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer disease, dementia, and many, many diseases that we might be able to—at some point in the future—resolve for the American people, developing a drug supply chain that will help the American people lead healthier and longer lives. So, I think it's very, very exciting what's going on. It's just 2 examples in terms of how technology is really going to impact the pharmacy industry moving forward.

PT Staff: How have pharmacy retailers and industry leaders propelled wellness in pharmacy? How is this innovation impacting the consumer?

Steven C. Anderson FASAE, CAE, IOM: We've been spending a lot of time on this. You know, we were in the middle of COVID-19 and we had to change almost every federal and state law. We now have 11 amendments to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. So pharmacists [can] do many services, including vaccinations. Pharmacy, probably at this point (according to CDC), has given 305 million COVID-19 shots in the pharmacy setting, but we've been focusing on “Where do we go from here? How do we leverage that success?” And we launched this NACDS 2023 initiative, and it has several components.

I gave a keynote address at this session yesterday, the business session. And I announced a really [what] I think is an unprecedented partnership with NACDS, who is now partnering with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American Heart Association (AHA) and Tufts University Food is Medicine program, to launch a public awareness campaign called ‘Nourish my Health’. It focuses on the broader health and wellness issues that NACDS is moving into now, or keeping as our core about what we do in pharmacy. But I kind of think of it as Pharmacy Plus. And it focuses on the total store providing health and wellness to the total person in many different areas. So that is where we're going with this.

And we're working with the Milken Institute, which is well known in the healthcare community in a highly prestigious organization, in developing certain programs that we'll be able to use. We're looking towards providing food prescriptions, where the pharmacists and the nutritionist and the dietitian would be working with people. I mean, we lose 300,000 people every year for heart disease. And we have growing rates of obesity, which have just continued to increase. And 52% of all young people have prediabetes. These are the issues we have to address and to do that will reduce healthcare costs. But as healthcare costs continue to go up, pharmacy and NACDS is really going to play a lead role in this. And I think it's really groundbreaking. I've never met a pharmacist who didn't want to improve the health of the American people. And that's what they're doing and will be doing well in the future.

PT Staff: How can pharmacy retailers optimize partnerships and educational opportunities, such as those from NACDS, into their daily practice?

Steven C. Anderson FASAE, CAE, IOM: I mean, NACDS is basically the collaborative and cooperative will of our members, where they get together and solve a lot of these problems that we talked about. And we're now here at the NACDS TSE. I love walking around looking at our trade show floor, the size of more than 6 football fields: it’s a big show. And almost every exhibitor has a product and it's for the health and wellness of the American people. And you have that relationship between the retailers and the suppliers at this show and at our annual meeting; it [also] happens in our regional chain conferences and other meetings we have; you have that dialogue. And that's good in terms of providing the services that we really want them to provide to enhance the health and wellbeing of every American.

PT Staff: What does retail pharmacy still need to overcome?

Steven C. Anderson FASAE, CAE, IOM: One thing that I thought came out of the pandemic, and since we've given more than 300 million COVID-19 shots in our member companies stores, is now the American people can really see the value that pharmacy provides to our nation and their health and wellness. And I think we've overcome those barriers.

I think pharmacy does a great job talking to itself. But we've expanded that outlook since I came to NACDS. When I got here 17 years ago, I did some focus groups, and shockingly, members on Capitol Hill and members of the public never really viewed pharmacy as part of the health care community. You know, they thought we were convenience stores, it just happened to sell medications. We started a new public awareness program and that's the tagline was “Pharmacy is the Face of Neighborhood Healthcare.” It’s that face-to-face interaction with a pharmacy and the neighborhood. Approximately 90% of all Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy, and it is health care. That has helped us dramatically. When I go to Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of our members or in the state capitals, they now understand what we're talking about when we say that pharmacies are the face and neighborhood health care. And the pandemic was just a perfect example of that. They're very receptive because members of Congress and state legislators want to improve the health and well-being of their constituents as well. So there's a partnership there. I think working together, we've done a really terrific job, and we work very closely with other pharmacy groups as well.

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