Closure of Carteret County pharmacy inconveniences community

Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 5:56 PM EDT
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OTWAY, N.C. (WITN) - A rural Eastern Carolina community is now without a pharmacy after the area’s only one closed abruptly in July.

The closure of Express Care Pharmacy in Otway means many people in the Carteret County community have to travel at least a half hour to get their medications.

Closures like these are a problem seen across the entire U.S.

In fact, according to the latest numbers from the University of Iowa’s Rural Policy Research Institute, 1,231 of the nation’s 7,624 independent pharmacies closed between 2003 and 2018.

“The store has ups and downs,” Beaufort Drug Company Manager James Graham said.

Keeping a pharmacy afloat is something Graham says is not easy down east, and with one of the other locally owned pharmacies abruptly closing, community members are feeling the impact.

“That’s a good 35, 40-minute drive,” customer Polly Hamilton said.

With Express Care Pharmacy’s closure, that’s how far the drive is now for some people to pick up their prescriptions.

“I think it kind of took the whole community as a shock,” Cassidy Elmore, Beaufort Drug Company pharmacist said.

Beaufort Drug Company says more than 20 prescriptions have been transferred to it from people who used to be at Express Care.

Its owners say fewer and fewer local pharmacies can afford to compete with the chains.

“When they moved in, they could sell them cheaper than I could buy them in some cases. The expensive drug, they may have to pay me $40, may have to pay the store down there $10,” Graham said.

Graham says the reason is that many insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers are integrating into the chain companies which keeps their prices lower than local pharmacies.

And with fewer local pharmacies, community members are missing out on the local feel they say matters the most.

“They’re personal... I feel like I’m coming into family when I come in here to pick up medicine and at my age, I pick up a lot of medicine,” Hamilton said.

Beaufort Drug Company says daily prescription refills have increased since the last week of July. The pharmacy says it now estimates seeing at least 150 refills a day on average. That’s a 50-patient increase from before Express Care closed.

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