Pharmacy Closures Leave Millions Helpless

( — Over the last few years, CVS and Walgreens have indicated plans to collectively close over 1,500 stores. Last week, Rite Aid filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Some have expressed concern that these mass closures will leave some people living in “pharmacy deserts.” Dima Qato, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, says that losing these pharmacies will affect those who need them the most.

There seem to be many factors contributing to the closing of so many pharmacies. Retail analysts point to the most obvious factor in increased competition. Neil Saunders, managing director of the analytics company GlobalData Retail, says they are just not as profitable as they once were and that the economics of running them have “just unraveled”. He names Walmart and Dollar General as more convenient options that have been taking over a share of the market. He also brings up another issue that has been plaguing pharmacies. They aren’t investing enough in their staff. Understaffed pharmacies lead to lowered standards of service for customers and harder working conditions for workers. Some pharmacists have staged walkouts in protest as a result.

There have also been lawsuits against some of the pharmacy chains regarding the opioid epidemic, which has killed over 300,000 people in the US since 2000. Rising retail crime has also affected the bottom line of pharmacies. Rite Aid lost 4.4% in the latest quarter and CVS 2% in front-of-store sales due to moving merchandise behind barriers to discourage theft. Some pharmacies have closed altogether due to rampant retail theft in places like San Francisco, where low-level thefts are rarely prosecuted anymore. Violence and rioting have also affected retail establishments of various kinds in recent years, leading to permanent store closures in many cities.

While professors like Dima Qato and Lorece Edwards from Morgan State University are focused on pharmacy access and health equity, businesses tend to focus on profit and practicality. Edwards is not wrong when she says that for rural or impoverished communities’ pharmacies, which often represent the “most accessible health care professionals”, the pharmacies cannot overcome the obstacles to running a successful business in places where there is too much crime or not enough customers to sustain them. In the meantime, online services like the new Amazon Clinic are moving in to fill the gaps.

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