Several pharmacy organizations team-up with HHS to participate and recruit pharmacists for the National Pharmacy Response Team.
In November, the FBI issued a warning regarding possible terrorist threats to hospitals in several major U.S. cities. Although the warning was of "low credibility," it was a stark reminder of how Americans in general and healthcare workers in particular are on heightened alert to the threat of domestic terrorism. While the Office of Homeland Security is beefing up its strategy on several fronts, healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, are ramping up their own programs designed to address the aftermath of a catastrophic bioterrorism event.
To that end, several national pharmacy organizations, including ASHP, the American Pharmaceutical Association, and the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP), have entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Health & Human Services. The goal is to have these organizations participate and recruit pharmacists for the National Pharmacy Response Team (NPRT).
"We agreed to help recruit pharmacists for the NPRT and to offer lines of communication with pharmacists about the NPRT and its activities and, to the extent that we can, participate in offering training programs," said Joseph Deffenbaugh, professional practice associate with ASHP.
"Members are excited and enthusiastic. I have no doubt that we'll have volunteers," said Mark Brueckl, pharmacy affairs manager for AMCP. He said AMCP is in the initial phases of recruitment and making members aware of the NPRT initiative.
The NPRT was created after Sept. 11, 2001, and in response to the anthrax episode in the fall of 2001. After the anthrax scare, it was realized that large numbers of pharmacists would be needed to do patient work-ups, dispense medications and vaccines, and engage in counseling activities in the event of a major bioterrorism attack. "The manpower requirements would be staggering," commented Deffenbaugh. "It's important to estimate what those manpower requirements would be to move thousands of people through dispensing centers in a short period of time."
At press time, ASHP was scheduled to recruit pharmacists for the NPRT as well as present a symposium on emergency preparedness at its Midyear Clinical Meeting in Atlanta this month.
But emergency preparedness activities are not limited to the federal level. Local and regional programs are also being implemented. At press time, the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy was scheduled to conduct a large-scale dispensing drill. Pharmacy students, pharmacy technicians, and faculty are set to participate in the drill, part of a three-day educational exercise to test the readiness of area hospitals and state and local agencies in responding to a biological threat.
For R.Ph. Nancy Hardie, pharmacy involvement in disaster preparedness is a natural. She works in a hospice and runs a lipid clinic with a cardiologist in Winston-Salem, N.C. But for the past two and a half years she has also been a member of Special Operations Response Team (SORT), a North Carolina-based team of healthcare professionals who respond to natural disasters in the Winston-Salem area.
With a heightened awareness of the potential of bioterrorism attacks, SORT has refocused its attention on weapons of mass destruction. Hardie said SORT conducts monthly decontamination drills along with training sessions on the use of medications to treat crush and blast injuries.
Hardie noted that it's the pharmacist's role not only to educate the public but also to remove some of the "fright factor." She believes it's incumbent on pharmacists to make sure people know where to go and what to do. How well is the emergency preparedness initiative working? "We have a long way to go. We're good, but we can learn more," she said.
Industry experts say pharmacists' expertise and training make them vital members of healthcare teams charged with addressing the impact of bioterrorism. "With the ever-increasing use of medicine to treat diseases, and certainly diseases of mass communicability, who better than pharmacists to have on the forefront," commented AMCP's Brueckl.
Tony Vecchione. Pharmacists play key role in emergency preparedness.