Rx Open

What you’re not hearing about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Pharma supply chain participants are coordinating their response


One of the unexpected—and troubling—news items that came out after Hurricane Katrina clobbered New Orleans in 2005 was the sudden absence of needed medications for patients. Drugs for diabetes, heart conditions and other chronic-care therapies went missing, and probably added to the death toll of that disaster.

Fast forward to 2017 and one of the headlines you’re not hearing about Hurricane Harvey is lack of medicine supplies. The difference is the efforts made by most members of the pharma supply chain—manufacturers, distributors and retail pharmacy, as well as the pharmacy profession itself. Many of these players come together in Healthcare Ready, which is providing near real-time bulletins on pharmacy availability in the affected region; as of the past week, it is now tracking the situation in Florida as well as Texas/Louisiana. (Through a service called Rx Open, Healthcare Ready provides a portal where individual pharmacies can post notices of their status–see illustration showing pharmacy status as of Sept. 7.)

“The Healthcare Ready team began fielding urgent requests for medicines, supplies, healthcare services and transport on Aug 24, which marked the beginning of the longest activation in our history,” posted Nicolette Louissaint, PhD, executive director. “Yet, even as Irma poses a new threat to millions, thousands of communities and families across the Texas and Louisiana areas still face urgent health needs, even as flood waters recede.”

NACDS, a member of Healthcare Ready, noted that it was in touch with Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, to offer any assistance. Dr Shah is the current board president of the National Assn. of County and City Health Officials—another Rx Ready member. And NCPA has posted details on state policies for such issues as refilling prescriptions without a scrip in hand, and the ability of pharmacists licensed in one state to provide emergency support in another.

The Centers for Disease Control is also mobilized, with provisioning relief supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. One component of this is providing tetanus and related vaccines, as infection from contaminated water is a worry in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Meanwhile, take a moment to consider the plight of Woodfield Distribution, which has a distribution center in Sugar Land, TX. Even with the backup resources and plans it has, it decided to move inventory from there to its Boca Raton, FL, distribution center prior to the Aug. 25 landfall of Harvey. The following week, as Hurricane Irma was forecast to reach Florida, the company has readied its inventory to move back to Sugar Land. “Moving medications within the supply chain is something most people don’t think about until their prescription is delayed,” says Adam Runsdorf, CEO. “Pharmaceutical logistics companies specialize in minimizing risk to assure the correct order is received at the right time by the proper recipient. And that includes operating during multiple hurricanes.”

More news will undoubtedly come out of Florida in the coming week, as the path and severity of Irma is experienced. Healthcare Ready, as well as a variety of groups connected to pharmacy associations, are accepting contributions—time to step up!