UCI Study First to Link Health Disparities, ‘Pharmacy Deserts’ in California

January 12th 2021
Jill Murphy, Associate Editor

The study describes pharmacy deserts in terms of social determinants of health, such as owning a vehicle, crime rates, and poverty, to determine which communities have the greatest need for pharmacy access

A University of California, Irvine (UCI) study identified communities where the nearest pharmacy was at least 1 mile away to provide the first record of “pharmacy deserts” in Los Angeles County, California.

Unlike previous studies, the current study describes pharmacy deserts in terms of social determinants of health, such as owning a vehicle, crime rates, and poverty, to determine which communities have the greatest need for pharmacy access, according to a press release.

“My goal is to bring these concepts together at the intersection of pharmacy practice, public health and social justice to reduce health disparities,” said study author Cheryl Wisseh, a health sciences assistant clinical professor of clinical pharmacy practice at UCI, in a press release.

The study found that some Los Angeles County areas lacking pharmacy access are characterized by denser populations, larger numbers of Latino and Black residents, fewer vehicles and home ownership, higher crime rates, and greater poverty.

“These social determinants of health compound the negative effects of pharmacy shortage through competing needs,” Wisseh said in a press release. “For example, some residents living below the poverty line may choose to forgo picking up their medications so that they can pay for food, rent and other necessities.”

According to Wisseh, pharmacy storage likely equates to fewer clinical pharmacy services, such as health screenings, vaccines, and medication management.

Additionally, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic makes access to pharmacists even more pressing.

“As the COVID-19 vaccines start rolling out, pharmacists will be key to the rapid and equitable distribution and administration of doses, just as they have been with COVID-19 testing,” said Jan D. Hirsch, BS Pharm, PhD, founding dean of the UCI’s School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, in a press release.

Wisseh added that the communities within pharmacy deserts are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

“The same forces of structural inequity and systemic racism that contribute to the formation of Los Angeles pharmacy deserts contribute to the disproportionate test positivity, incidence and mortality rates of COVID-19 in racial and ethnic minorities,” Wisseh said in a press release.

The study authors noted that residents in Los Angeles County pharmacy deserts might benefit greatly from equitable, innovative, community-based interventions that increase access to medications, pharmacy services, and pharmacists. For example, the county could add pharmacists to local clinics and other primary care settings to provide clinical services.

Wisseh plans to conduct a similar study on a larger scale to examine how pharmacy deserts contribute to whether minority communities take medications as prescribed and investigate disparities in available medications within pharmacies, according to the press release.

REFERENCE

UCI study first to link disparities and ‘pharmacy deserts’ in California. https://pharmsci.uci.edu/uci-study-first-to-link-disparities-and-pharmacy-deserts-in-california/. Published January 6, 2021. Accessed January 7, 2021.

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