Published April 11, 2013
At 3:45 a.m. on April 16, while most of us are still asleep, UB pharmacy practice faculty and students will board a bus bound for the state capitol to educate lawmakers about issues that affect pharmacists across the state.
It’s called Albany Day and pharmacists, professors and students from professional organizations, universities and colleges across New York State will spend an entire day having conversations about public policy with legislators to try to influence the passage of laws that affect their profession, as well as health consumers.
“It’s an awesome experience,” says Sarah Farr, UB PharmD candidate, Class of 2014. “Talking to legislators gives pharmacists the best opportunity to explain how lawmakers can assist us as professionals in providing optimal patient care.”
Farr is president of the Student Pharmacist’s Association of Western New York (SPAWNY), president of the Student Pharmacists’ Society of the State of New York (SPSSNY) and an American Pharmacists’ Association Liaison for Student Political Advocacy Network (AphA SPAN) liaison.
She says that this year some of the top pharmacy issues will be expanding the scope of pharmacists in the administration of vaccines for herpes, flu and pneumonia; removing the loop hole in the Anti-Mandatory Mail Order Act (AMMO) and mandating pharmacy technician certification.
For instance, Farr says that when pharmacists were prohibited by law from giving flu vaccines to children six months of age and up, that sanction was lifted by the governor’s executive order in response to the recent flu epidemic. When pharmacists are able to give more vaccine, it allows for more outreach and helps more people who needed it.
Karl Fiebelkorn, associate dean for student affairs and associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, who has accompanied students to Albany in past years, says these trips ultimately are about ensuring that New York State has excellent health care and gets it to those who need it most.
“We (pharmacists) can give some vaccines and not others. For instance, adults are starting to get pertussis again because their childhood vaccines are becoming ineffective. But pharmacists at this point can’t give those vaccines,” he says. “During Hurricane Sandy, it became important for a wide distribution of tetanus vaccines to be administered, but in New York State, pharmacists aren’t allowed to give those. Who suffers from this? Members of the public who needs the vaccine.”
Fiebelkorn and Farr say pharmacists also are concerned about the loophole in AMMO that may force consumers to purchase drugs prescribed by a physician at online/mail order pharmacies. While AMMO has provided more protection to health consumers—allowing them to purchase not just at mail order pharmacies—the loop hole permits mail order pharmacies to designate certain drugs as “specialty drugs” and mandates that these specific drugs be sent through mail order.
Fiebelkorn and Farr say pharmacists also are concerned about patients receiving prescription drugs without the oversight and education provided by licensed pharmacists.
“Patient education is an essential service that pharmacists provide, alerting patients about dangerous side effects,” says Farr.
“Also, the pharmacist can review all the drugs a patient is on and can warn the patient and her physicians of possible drug interactions. When patients order drugs prescribed by a physician through mail order pharmacies, there is no pharmacist to provide possible life-saving information,” she says.
Fiebelkorn notes that some patients will go to a pharmacist first when they have health problems or when they think they are having a drug interaction. He recounts the time, while working as a pharmacist, that a patient came to see him and began having chest pain related to an arrhythmia as she was standing in front of him. He had one of his technicians take her to the hospital down the street where she was immediately admitted.
“Many patients have been forced by their insurers into mail order drugs. One of the key problems with this system is that the drugs are not always delivered on time—when patients need them,” says Fiebelkorn. “The drugs may also sit on a truck where temperatures can range from below freezing to 95 degrees. This can destroy the drugs’ effectiveness without the patient knowing.”
Mail order drugs also force neighborhood pharmacies out of business. According to Fiebelkorn, 188 pharmacies closed last year in New York State. With each pharmacy employing approximately 40 people, that means 7,520 job gone.
The loss of jobs is a powerful argument when speaking to state legislators, Farr and Fiebelkorn say.
“When you add to this all the regulations in New York State, graduate pharmacists don’t feel they can practice to their fullest potential here, which means more than 50 percent of UB PharmD graduates leave the state. We want those jobs and our graduates here,” Fiebelkorn says.
This year, UB pharmacy students and faculty will travel to Albany with pharmacy students from St. John Fisher College in Rochester.
The Rochester Drug Corporation is funding the cost of the bus transportation.