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Pharmacy closures in rural communities lead to unique workarounds, says Penn State research

A sign that says a pharmacy is closed.
Peter Morgan
Signs are taped to the entrance of a recently closed Rite Aid store in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. A similar sign hangs on the door of the "Moshannon Valley Pharmacy" in Snow Shoe, telling patients their prescriptions have been moved to the CVS in Bellefonte. That pharmacy closed in 2020.

As pharmacies close across the state, Penn State researchers are working to inform rural communities about the potential impacts of closures through a study. The research is based on interviews with residents of Snow Shoe, a small borough about a 30-minute drive north of State College, which lost its only pharmacy and primary health care facility in 2020.

Since Snow Shoe’s pharmacy closed, some residents have found it difficult to get their prescriptions filled, according to Kristina Brant. She’s an Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology at Penn State. Brant has made several visits to Snow Shoe to talk with residents.

“We've heard of folks taking blood pressure medication every other day instead of every day, or reducing their insulin dosages, not taking their cholesterol meds as prescribed, because of losing that close access," Brant said. "We've also heard stories of folks sharing medication with one another to help each other make it through the gap before they can get to the pharmacy.”

Brant said the idea for this research came from her involvement with the LION Mobile Clinic, a student-run model overseen by Penn State Health professionals.

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Brant said some community members have neighbors picking up their medications. That could lead to problems, according to Lisa Davis, the director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health.

“I'm sure that these neighbors are fine. But let's say that you have a controlled substance that you need to have filled, and so you give your next door neighbor your debit or credit card or the cash, and they are somehow intercepted by someone who knows that they are going to get a controlled substance," Davis said.

Davis said getting medications by mail is one solution, but then there’s no pharmacist to answer questions and warn about potential side effects.

"I think it's always great to be able to have a place where you can go and ask the questions that you don't normally. That you either don't feel like you can ask or if you're in the doctor's office, you don't think of it. Or you're embarrassed to ask it," Davis said.

Brant said her study should be published soon.

"Hopefully it can provide some other rural communities information on potential impacts that come from the closure of these really important, small health centers in rural places," Brant said.

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