Prescription Drug Postal Delays Put Thousands of American Lives at Risk

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Jan Stowe has seen countless patients undergo withdrawals during her 40-year nursing career, but last month she experienced it herself when the U.S. Postal Service failed to provide her medications for chronic back pain and muscle spasms.

A nurse for combat veterans during and after the Vietnam War, Stowe said she could identify her own symptoms but there was nothing she could do but wait at her home in Traverse City, Michigan.

“I was nervous. I was anxious. I couldn’t concentrate. I was pacing. I felt nauseous. I was sweating. It was all symptoms, ”Stowe said of last month’s experience. “I mean, I’ve never used heroin, but I’ve dealt with drug addicts. Now I know what it feels like.

Stowe, whose back problems forced her to retire, is among the thousands of Americans who have missed their prescription drugs due to postal service delays. A dramatic drop in on-time deliveries since the start of July has put lives at risk as more people depend on getting their prescriptions in the mail.

The Postal Service handles 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments per year – or about 4 million per day, six days a week – reported the National Association of Letter Carriers earlier this year. That number has increased during the pandemic, and many recipients accuse President Donald Trump and the White House of orchestrating mail delays to undermine postal voting. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said last week he would suspend any operational changes to the postal service until the end of the election to avoid any impact on postal voting. But that doesn’t take into account side effects, such as statutes of limitations and economic fallout for small businesses.

Erin Fox, professor of drug therapy at the University of Utah, pointed out that most prescriptions filled in the mail treat chronic conditions rather than short-term prescriptions, like antibiotic treatment.

She said these drugs often treat cholesterol or high blood pressure – and without them, patients could have heart attacks or strokes – but also consist of inhalers, insulin and anti-rejection drugs. for people who have had an organ transplant.

“Delays with the postal system are of great concern because patients may not be able to access the chronic medications they need,” she said.

For Ray Carolin, an Air Force veteran and former Secret Service agent who lives in Lafayette, Indiana, delayed medication can mean the difference between life and death. When the Postal Service doesn’t deliver drugs sent by the Veterans Administration, which fill 80% of its prescriptions through the mail, Carolin struggles to find the drugs she needs and is forced to pay out of pocket.

“These drugs are very important to me – they keep me alive,” Carolin said. “And on one occasion I had to travel 60 miles to get to Indy VA Hospital because I hadn’t received any heart medication. And for another drug that I had to take, I had to go to the CVS pharmacy locally here in Lafayette instead of driving to Indianapolis, and I had to go buy my drug because I didn’t get it from. GOES.

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The senses. Bob Casey and Elizabeth Warren of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, respectively, are trying to tackle the problem by contacting companies that actually meet the prescriptions.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Joins Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., To support her campaign at a canvas launch event in North Philadelphia on September 23, 2018.Bastiaan Slabbers / NurPhoto via the Getty Images file

The two Senate Democrats sent a series of letters to the top five mail-order pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers – including the Cigna, CVS and Walgreens department – about delays in the delivery of prescription drugs sent to people elderly, veterans and millions of other Americans, who, they wrote, are at “grave risk if President Trump’s efforts to degrade mail service cause delays and disruption.”

Casey told NBC News he has received more than 97,000 letters from voters about the policies instituted by DeJoy, a longtime Republican ally and former logistics official who admitted in a congressional hearing on Friday that its changes had caused some of the delays.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, on Friday lobbied DeJoy over prescription drugs, telling him the ‘heartbreaking stories’ he heard, sharing the anecdote of a veteran with lung disease Chronic obstructive system who contacted his office after enduring a long wait. to receive his inhaler.

“We are working here feverishly to make the system work, to add stability and also to hire more workers to handle the delivery process,” DeJoy said. “We all feel bad about the drop in our level of service.

Constituents in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have reached out to Casey’s office, from “veterans with drug shortages in Clarion County to small business owners in Wexford who depend on a reliable postal service to deliver their products to their customers,” he said. Casey said.

“I have heard of young families with immunocompromised children who waited for days for mail to renew their empty prescriptions in the suburbs of our main metropolitan areas,” added the senator. “The Trump administration’s sabotage at the USPS is being felt all over Pennsylvania, but we know it is particularly harmful to rural communities.

What many may not realize is that the insurance industry has forced or strongly encouraged many prescriptions to be sent by mail, Fox said. All major insurance companies have a mail order system, which tends to be cheaper and easier for patients – especially since they don’t always have to remember to renew their own. prescriptions.

But if patients run out of medication and try to switch to a local pharmacy, there can be a number of roadblocks they can face.

“In some cases the insurer may just not allow it, and then they may charge them a lot more,” Fox said. “Logistically, it’s a problem. They’re going to have to make phone calls and try to change things, and it’s not an easy process to do that.

It’s also a particularly difficult time to deal with these issues, as many at-risk Americans with pre-existing conditions have turned to courier delivery for prescriptions because they want to avoid public spaces during the coronavirus pandemic. .

Max Cooper, a Pennsylvania doctor who works outside of Philadelphia, said he received his in-laws three months of prescriptions when COVID-19 began sweeping the country because they were vulnerable to the disease. Mail delivery also helped.

But after hearing about these mail delays, Cooper – an Afghanistan war veteran who now works with the Medicare Protection Committee – said he quickly thought of the people he treated fair. after leaving the battlefield in Helmand Province, one of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan, and those he helped in Philadelphia at the VA Hospital where he volunteered.

All are likely to depend on the VA for their prescription drugs, and most receive their drugs in the mail.

A U.S. Postal Service worker wearing gloves and a face shield pushes a cart past trucks in Crockett, Calif., August 17, 2020.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Every shift that I was there, there was a veteran in some sort of psychiatric crisis where he was struggling because he couldn’t get the antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications that he clearly needed for. treating his service-related psychiatric conditions, ”he said of his time working at the VA hospital. “I have seen veterans have strokes, diabetes and heart problems. “

“This is just another way to prevent these people from getting the drugs they so badly need,” Cooper added. “This means more veterans are going to have heart attacks, strokes and die early in life, full of unnecessary suffering. “

Casey said the mail crisis underscored the need for the USPS to receive additional funding, although Trump had previously threatened to veto any bill that included dollars intended for the federal agency. Nonetheless, Congress continues to debate whether or not to provide the Postal Service with $ 25 billion to help it weather the pandemic.

The Pennsylvania senator plans to “continue to pressure the administration to increase funding for the USPS and reverse harmful policies that have caused the delays in service.”

For patients like Stowe, this pressure is necessary to avoid the “misery” she says she has experienced, which keeps her from turning her head or neck. Although her pain relievers have changed her life, she says, there are many more who need their medication to survive.

“We just need to get the funding for the postal service because a lot of people depend on it for their medications,” Stowe said. “Without it, people will die.”

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