A bill that would institute mobile pharmacy vans that can reach hard to reach areas, vulnerable people in underserved areas, as well as areas currently not served by pharmacies, was introduced in the State Senate on Monday.
Senate Bill 872, authored by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), would specifically authorize Counties and cities to operate licensed mobile vans to give prescription medication within their city or County boundaries. Those with no fixed address and those unable to leave the home, such as homeless people and isolated individuals away from populated areas, would be included under the bill.
The vans would be able to distribute prescribed medication only if the city or County would be able to meet the licensure, staffing, and operations needs for such a program. The program itself would be run by the Board of Pharmacy. Each van would have at least one physician on the team to prescribe needed medications. Controlled substances, including medications such as oxycontin, percocet, and other commonly abused opiate based drugs, would not be carried or dispensed.
Senator Dodd wrote SB 872 to help give access to people in California who otherwise would not be able to receive needed prescriptions, such as the homeless population, those who live in areas with few pharmacies, and other hard to reach communities.
“Many people can’t get to the medication they need to lead healthy, productive lives, so we will bring it to them,” said Senator Dodd on Monday in a statement. “We must be proactive if we want to address the underlying cause of many societal challenges, including homelessness. This bill creates critical access to potentially life-saving drugs that will improve the lives of the most vulnerable Californians.”
In a follow-up Tweet, Dodd added that “Many hard-to-reach communities can’t get the medication they need to lead healthy, productive lives. With my new bill, we’re going to bring it to them.”
Many hard-to-reach communities can't get the medication they need to lead healthy, productive lives.
With my new bill, we're going to bring it to them.@SanDiegoCounty @nathanfletcher @HealthySCC @CCCounty @CoCoHealth #Homelessness https://t.co/lMvZlRkMka
— Senator Bill Dodd (@SenBillDodd) January 24, 2022
Mobile pharmacy vans support, possible issues
Several healthcare groups, along with three counties (Contra Costa, San Diego, Santa Clara) and homeless advocates, approved of SB 872 on Monday
“A mobile pharmacy can more effectively reach vulnerable populations and underserved neighborhoods,” said San Diego Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher on Monday. “There are working families in our city centers and rural areas who forgo the medicine they need to maintain their health because they lack access to a nearby pharmacy; we have the ability to improve their circumstances by changing the law. I want to thank Sen. Bill Dodd for his partnership on this legislation; our county is ready to support him in any way necessary.”
Santa Clara County Health System Director Rene G. Santiago also noted, “The county of Santa Clara’s health system is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of communities we serve. Sen. Dodd’s bill will further our mission by providing us the ability to operate a mobile pharmacy to dispense medications to underserved areas and homeless populations. Doing this will help us address health equity challenges for vulnerable residents by improving access to needed medications.”
While the bill has not yet received any significant opposition, many experts warn that having a van full of medications could present some unforeseen dangers.
“We need to talk about having security personnel in these vans, because rolling distribution vans full of expensive medications could attract hijackers and others who want to take or steal drugs inside,” Jim Schaeffer, a researcher who has studied mobile pharmacy programs in other countries, told the Globe on Tuesday. “Now, this California bill is smart enough to not allow controlled substances. Other van programs that did this had issues with that as you can imagine, so they’re learning from past mistakes.”
“Countries like Israel have had trial and error programs for years, and to this bills’ credit, it is basing a lot off of the successful programs. But if these vans are carrying expensive medications that aren’t controlled substances, that still leaves them vulnerable. If the bill specifically has security of some sort added, as well as a rough reasonable cost, and a rough estimate on how many people these vans can serve, I think it will attract a lot of people from both sides of the aisle, as this affects every county. But any and all concerns have to be addressed.”
SB 872 is expected to be heard in the state Senate in the coming months.