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N.Y. drug stores, organizations band together to fight off swine flu

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK On the ground in New York, where most of the confirmed cases of swine flu have been identified, there has been a surge in purchases of such flu medicines as Roche’s Tamiflu, hand sanitizers and face masks through local New York pharmacies, such as Duane Reade and CVS, especially in Queens, each of the retailers has said.

“As New York’s largest drug store, Duane Reade is committed to the health and safety of New Yorkers,” stated Frank Scorpiniti, SVP pharmacy operations at Duane Reade, noting that in particular its 28 locations in Queens have seen increased activity related to the swine flu. “Duane Reade pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare providers. Our pharmacists are providing information on the prevention, detection and treatment of the flu, and we are increasing our supplies of products associated with this.”

CVS has ordered additional doses of Roche’s Tamiflu in anticipation of increased demand, according to published reports.

Meanwhile, Kerr Drug is taking a proactive stance, though the 102-store chain has yet to see any cases of Swine Flu in the Carolinas, said director of marketing Diane Eliezer.

“We’ve just built an endcap to display things like hand sanitizers, gloves and that sort of thing, with signage to identify it in our stores,” Eliezer told Drug Store News.

Meanwhile, Walgreens spokesman Robert Ellfinger said the chain has posted signs in its stores to direct customers to products that could help ward off infection, as well as information at its pharmacies on federal guidelines for minimizing the risk of contact with the disease. “We’ve instructed our pharmacists to direct patients to the recommendations,” he said.

Ellinger also added that the chain has “seen an increase in prescriptions for Tamiflu, but we’re not sure what that means yet. We’re also seeing increases in products like hand sanitizers.”

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores has also been actively monitoring swine flu developments, and is proactively disseminating relevant information to its member companies.

“NACDS has been very active since the inception of this potential pandemic … since it was announced last week,” Edith Rosato, NACDS SVP pharmacy affairs, told Drug Store News. “We’ve been in communication with the Department of Homeland Security and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” she said, participating in daily conference calls with those organizations around swine flu developments.

“Our role is really to ensure that we get that communication … to our members,” she said. “In any case of an emergency … the important thing is that we continually have supply of medications and consumable products, as well as [over-the-counter] products for any patient that walks into a pharmacy because pharmacies are the first response when it comes to the availability of products.”

Having an outbreak of any kind of influenza-like illness this late in the traditional human influenza season could present a supply-and-demand challenge, however, as chains aren’t typically deep in antiviral inventory at the store level as they may be at the beginning of a season.

On-hand sourcing for flu medicines like Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza, which has also been suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a suitable antiviral in the treatment of this swine flu, may in fact be problematic should there be a significant increase in demand, Laurel Edelman, SDI vice president of clinical accounts, told Drug Store News.

“Traditionally, the flu season will last toward the end of April,” Edelman said.

This year, the flu season peaked relatively late in the season, which would have boded well for having supply on hand in the local pharmacy, but it has been one of the slowest flu seasons on record.

“The idea that Tamiflu should be sitting on the pharmacy shelf at the end of a slow season — I’m not surprised to hear that [pharmacies] may have to wait to get [the medicine] from a distributor,” she said.

To date, there have been no reports of antiviral shortages.

GlaxoSmithKline, which on Monday announced it had supplied Mexico with 170,000 additional doses of Relenza, reported that it is exploring additional production capabilities should the need arise, and is working with the World Health Organization and other national agencies around the manufacture of a vaccine to help prevent this new influenza strain, once a suitable candidate vaccine strain is available from the WHO.

The St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens has been the source of sorts for all of New York City’s swine flu cases — as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, 45 cases of swine flu have been traced to the school. According to the New York City Department of Health, as many as 100 students missed classes a week ago due to an influenza-like illness.

“We believe there were probably more than 100 cases of swine flu at the school, and lab tests are confirming what we have suspected,” announced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday.

Bloomberg confirmed “there are no other clusters [of swine flu incidence] in the city,”  adding that a six possible cases at a day-care center in the Bronx came back negative for the swine flu.

The St. Francis school has been closed for the remainder of the week, the school announced on its Web site.

“This should provide adequate time for any students who are ill to recover,” the school stated.

All student activities are cancelled and there will be no access to the building during the week.

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The Jean Coutu Group reports fiscal-year earnings

BY Michael Johnsen

LONGUEUIL, Quebec The Jean Coutu Group reported $2 billion in revenues across its Canadian operations for its fiscal 2009 ended Feb. 28, up 6.5% as compared with fiscal 2008, and recorded a net loss of $1 billion for the year, primarily resulting from its Rite Aid holdings.

Jean Coutu recorded its share of Rite Aid’s loss during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2009, which amounted to $635.2 million. For the year, the Rite Aid loss totaled $1.1 billion, compared with $324.9 million in the year-ago period.

“Canadian operations performed well during the fourth quarter,” stated Jean Coutu president and CEO Francois Coutu. “We have maintained our growth objectives and our network’s retail sales increased significantly in spite of the Canadian economic conditions. … In fiscal year 2010, we intend to maintain the rhythm of our network’s expansion and pursue the  development of our product offering to boost sales. We will also continue to analyze the progress made by Rite Aid’s management towards the implementation of their strategic plan.”

For the fiscal year 2009, on a same-store basis, total Jean Coutu Canadian network retail sales increased 3.8%, pharmaceutical same-store sales gained 5.4% and front-end sales increased 1.2% compared with the 2008 comparable period.

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NACDS chief, state pharmacy leader appeal to consumers on Medicaid cuts

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK For years now, pharmacy leaders at the state and national level have waged a long lobbying campaign to educate policymakers about the damage wrought to community pharmacies by ill-conceived Medicaid cost-cutting programs.

 

Efforts to balance state and federal budgets by cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates to pharmacies, these pharmacy leaders tell lawmakers and their staffs, force a bitter choice on the retail pharmacy industry: to either dispense prescriptions to low-income Medicaid beneficiaries at a loss, or give up that end of the pharmacy business entirely. Filling scripts for those patients for the lowball payment levels offered in states like Washington means losing money with every prescription dispensed, pharmacy advocates tell policymakers. Not filling them means throwing impoverished and low-income patients out of the pharmacy without their needed medications.

 

It’s an untenable choice. Drug retailers have had to threaten cutting off service to Medicaid patients in states like Washington – where Walgreens recently threatened to suspend pharmacy services for those patients unless the state rescinded its latest round of cuts – or scrap their standard business model.

Leaders like NACDS president and CEO Steven Anderson and Bruce Roberts, EVP and CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association, have argued repeatedly for a fresh approach by state legislatures to saving money. They assert that state Medicaid programs could save big dollars without cutting pharmacy dispensing rates. How? By partnering with pharmacies on cost-effective, long-term programs to effectively manage patients’ outcomes, educate those patients on prevention and wellness options, and keep them out of high-cost urgent-care centers through better medication therapy management.

Too often, those appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Thus, it’s no surprise that Anderson, along with Jeff Rochon, CEO of the Washington State Pharmacy Association, would take their case directly to the consumers themselves. Using the forum provided by The Seattle Times, the two warned Puget Sound residents that they could lose both vital health resources and businesses that contribute to the local economy if the proposed cuts aren’t replaced with other cost-saving options for the state’s cash-strapped Medicaid program.

Those options are available, NCPA asserted earlier this week in its latest salvo on reimbursement cuts. The independent pharmacy group urged the Congress and the White House to totally reform the Medicaid payment system, preserving a workable profit margin for community pharmacies, encouraging instead of discouraging the dispensing of lower-cost generics, and paying for cost-effective prevention and early-intervention programs by pharmacists for patients with diabetes and other conditions.

The urgency of the appeal from Anderson and Rochon reflects the ongoing battle over Medicaid reimbursement cuts at both the federal and state levels. As states like California, Michigan, Georgia and Texas cope with falling tax revenues and rising spending for public health programs, the battle over Medicaid pharmacy payment cuts in Washington State and at the Dept. of Health & Human Services are being waged in state legislatures across the United States.

Reporting on the surging costs of Medicaid earlier this year, The New York Times noted that the recession and job losses had driven enrollment rates by 5% to 10% in many states in 2008, adding new pressure to already strained state budgets.

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