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Pharmacies have long been in short supply in Wards 7 and 8. In late 2016, there were 18 pharmacies split between those two wards, according to D.C. Department of Health (DOH) data. That is the same number as in Ward 1, which at the time the data were collected was about half as populous as Wards 7 and 8.  (There are approximately 75,000 residents in Ward 1 compared to 145,000 in Wards 7 and 8). Ward 2 had around 76,000 residents, and yet was home to 41 pharmacies.

The main function of a pharmacy is to dispense prescription medications. In this capacity, they play an important role in medication compliance. When it is harder for individuals to access their medications, they are not as good at taking them as prescribed.

A 2011 study from University of California showed that women who receive one-year supplies of oral contraceptives are less likely to become pregnant than those that receive one- or three-month supplies at a time. The authors attribute the lower pregnancy rate in the cohort of patients receiving a long-lasting supply of medication to ease of access in obtaining the medication; they did not need to remember to make a trip to the pharmacy every month.

Many pharmacies provide services additional to dispensing prescription medication, including vaccination. Commercial chain pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS offer the flu shot, and often at a reduced cost compared to that in a doctor’s office. Almost all of the pharmacies in Wards 1-6 offer flu vaccination, according to the D.C. Department of Health, while less than half of those in Ward 8 do. 

The D.C. Council and several nonprofits have stepped in to address this resource desert with a variety of innovative solutions that, at their core, make access to existing preventative health resources in Wards 7 and 8 more efficient. 

In June of 2017, Unity Health Care, which operates community health care centers across D.C., opened two new pharmacies, one at their Parkside location and the other at their Upper Cardozo location. The pharmacies allow patients to pick up prescriptions at the same place where they see a doctor. They also offer several innovative new services, such as a home delivery service for patients with recurring prescriptions and a Unity Health Pharmacy smartphone app that can be used to request refills.  

These policies will reduce the number of trips patients have to make for their health care. So, too, will a law passed by the D.C. Council in January, which will allow some patients seeking hormonal contraceptives (birth control pills) to obtain a prescription and 12-month supply directly from their pharmacist. The law, which was passed unanimously by the Council and is so far uncontested by congress, will go into effect in early 2019.