You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

‘It’s catastrophic’: Chicago-area patients struggle to get medications as pharmacies close amid George Floyd unrest

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 6/4/2020 By Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune
a group of people standing in a room: Shelves of filled prescription orders wait to be picked up or delivered from 200 Pharmacy on Stony Island Avenue on June 3, 2020. © Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Shelves of filled prescription orders wait to be picked up or delivered from 200 Pharmacy on Stony Island Avenue on June 3, 2020.

Many Chicagoans are scrambling to get essential medications because of pharmacy closures amid unrest over the death of George Floyd, and the problem is particularly acute on the city’s South Side.

At least 60 Chicago-area pharmacies have been damaged or closed in recent days, according to one estimate from the Illinois Pharmacists Association. CVS Health said at least 42 of its Chicago-area stores were closed in recent days, though that number was down to 30 by Wednesday. Many of them are in the Loop and South Side.

Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso did not disclose how many stores have been damaged or closed. But community members and leaders report widespread closures of Walgreens on the South Side.

The closures have made it difficult for many area residents with diabetes, heart problems, mental health disorders and drug addictions to get their medications. People with prescriptions at big pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, can often pick them up at other stores in the same chain, but limited transportation options may make getting to another store difficult.

a person standing in front of a refrigerator: 200 Pharmacy owner and pharmacist Sherman White Jr. fills an order for a customized medication inside the compounding lab on June 3, 2020. © Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS 200 Pharmacy owner and pharmacist Sherman White Jr. fills an order for a customized medication inside the compounding lab on June 3, 2020.

Patients who want to transfer prescriptions to a different pharmacy may first have to go through their health insurance companies, further delaying their ability to get medication.

“It’s a huge problem if you can’t get your medication filled,” said Kevin Colgan, vice president and chief pharmacy officer at University of Chicago Medical Center. “We have fewer and fewer access points for patients, so when these close down ... or they’re unable to serve the patients, it’s catastrophic.”

The University of Chicago Medical Center’s retail pharmacy has been busy this week, trying to fill prescriptions for patients whose usual pharmacies are closed. It filled 902 prescriptions Tuesday, about 30% more than usual, Colgan said. The pharmacy has increased staffing to deal with the demand, he said.

a man standing in front of a brick building: People stand outside the closed and damaged Walgreens at 86th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue on June 3, 2020. © Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS People stand outside the closed and damaged Walgreens at 86th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue on June 3, 2020.

The pharmacy also has been filling mail-order prescriptions, but Colgan noted some delivery services will no longer go to certain areas of the city.

Doctors at the University of Chicago have found it easier in recent days to write new prescriptions rather than transfer existing ones to other pharmacies, Colgan said.

Some patients have gone without important medications.

Several patients at Chicago Family Health Center haven’t been able to get suboxone, a medication for people suffering from opioid addictions, said Ari Bernstein, a substance use disorder manager at the center, which has half a dozen clinics on the South Side. People who rely on suboxone become very ill, suffering from withdrawal, if they don’t take it.

When the unrest began, Chicago Family Health Center tried calling area pharmacies to see which were still open, but had no luck. They heard two area Walgreens were open and sent patients there. But the patients arrived to find looters ransacking the stores, so they left without their medications, he said.

“These are people, if they don’t get their suboxone, are going to be really sick or turn to using heroin,” Bernstein said. “It’s critical these people get their medicine.”

During the cleanup of a South Side Walgreens a couple of days ago, patients streamed into the area in search of their prescriptions, said Ald. Roderick Sawyer, whose 6th Ward includes Chatham, Park Manor, Englewood and part of Auburn Gresham.

a close up of a white building: The damaged and closed Walgreens at 86th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago on June 3, 2020. © Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS The damaged and closed Walgreens at 86th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago on June 3, 2020.

During that cleanup, he encountered many people who were worried about where they would get their prescriptions. “There’s been no clear answer to that,” he said.

Sawyer said he’s been talking with Walgreens representatives about ways to address the situation, including whether it’s possible to set up mobile pharmacies.

During a Tuesday news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city is working with Walgreens and CVS. “We have told them even in this difficult time, when your stores have been hit, we need you in our communities to be there," she said.

The Chicago Department of Public Health is developing information for the public on which pharmacies are open, working with the city’s 311 informational number to tell callers about available resources, and talking with pharmacies, doctors and health systems about what to do next.

CVS is working to reroute the phone systems of its closed pharmacies to nearby stores that are open, so patients can continue to get their medications, CVS spokeswoman Amy Thibault said in a statement. But CVS is “monitoring the situation and will close stores, if needed, to ensure the safety of employees and customers,” she said.

Caruso, with Walgreens, said in a statement the company is thankful for additional police presence at pharmacies and grocery stores, and is reaching out to patients whose stores have closed to find nearby locations.

“We are in the process of assessing damage at our stores and will work to reopen locations and restore pharmacy services across the city,” Caruso said.

Some neighborhood leaders are taking the situation into their own hands.

Community, faith and business leaders gathered on the South Side Wednesday to announce an initiative with the 200 Pharmacy to fill prescriptions of seniors in need of cholesterol, hypertension, respiratory or heart medications. Uber is offering free rides to the pharmacy for seniors.

“You can’t tell somebody who barely can get to the corner store or around the block, ‘You’ve got to drive all the way to Logan Square (for medication),’” said the Rev. William Hall, pastor at St. James Community Church, who is among those behind the project. “This is all-out wrong.”

Hall said he was inspired to start the program after he heard about the experience of the Rev. Michael Pfleger of The Faith Community of St. Sabina in Auburn Gresham.

Pfleger spent more than an hour standing outside a Walgreens near his church Sunday watching looters. Two of his congregants picked up prescriptions that had been strewn about and delivered them to patients, Pfleger said.

“They were taking prescription bins out, and a number of them were just thrown on the street,” Pfleger said. “I didn’t understand why the folks had to take the prescriptions, because those were necessary for people’s lives.”

———

©2020 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon