Major drug store chains including Rite Aid and CVSacross the U.S., leaving some Americans scrambling to fill prescriptions.
The bulk of the closures are taking place in low-income neighborhoods, public health experts have warned.
“A lot of these pharmacies are in areas that are underserved, communities of color,” Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, a family medicine and urgent care doctor, told CBS News.
It’s one thing to have to travel longer distances for food and other staples, but medication is another story, she added.
“When we look at the rate of disproportionate disease in those communities and the fact that they are closing down access, this is a huge problem,” Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell said.
The store closures come amid slowing sales for pharmacies and opioid-related lawsuit payouts.
Rite Aid this month said it filed for bankruptcy as it carries out a restructuring plan. The company said rent costs for underperforming stores weighed on its balance sheet and that it has closed more than 200 struggling locations in recent years.
For consumers, pharmacies’ financial woes can leave them living in “pharmacy deserts,” where grocers have also recently shuttered stores.
“We have seen that there are several neighborhoods, primarily communities of color and rural communities that don’t have access just to healthy foods,” Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell said.
The pharmacy closures compound health inequities that already exist.
Health gap for communities of color
“When you look at the fact that the pharmacies aren’t there as well, there’s no wonder why we have this widening gap of health inequities and disparities,” Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell said.
A dearth of community pharmacies makes it harder for her to serve her own patients.
“As a physician, I rely on my local pharmacy for my patient. Because that’s where I am going to ask them to go to get their medications. Not only prescriptions, but over-the-counter medicine as well as,” she said.
Essentials like blood pressure machines that are sold at pharmacy are required for “having optimal care,” she added.
Southwestern Pennsylvania residents lamented the impending closure of Rite Aid stores near them. The company said it’s closing nine stores serving thousands of customers in the Pittsburgh area.
Rite Aid has told existing customers it will transfer their prescriptions to other nearby pharamcies. But patients are concerned it won’t be as convenient.
“I take care of my mother’s prescriptions and now I don’t know where they’re going to go,” Rite Aid customer Jennifer Dauer told CBS News Pittsburgh. “I do everything online; I get the text for refills, pay online. I am going to have to set that up.”