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LTE: Alabama plagued by physician shortage and overcrowded doctors’ offices

9.29.16 – Matthew Taheri, AL.com

As a pharmacy manager and a longtime resident of the Yellowhammer State, I have met the rural families and residents who struggle to find convenient and accessible healthcare. Through my job, I know firsthand of the hardships– the cost of co-pays and labs, the long drives, and even longer wait times–many face just to get their yearly checkup. It is a troubling trend that I know is not specific to Alabama or even to rural communities.

Our nation is seeing a lack of doctors to treat our population, and it is important that our state has a discussion on how best to fix this problem. Now is the time for this discussion, as our primary care physician shortage has once again made headlines by a study released by Avalere Health. This study found that there were 80 areas in our state, making up 37 percent of Alabama’s population, which are considered lacking sufficient primary care physicians. That is far too great a number.

As part of the discussion our state must have regarding this shortage, we must ensure that our state does everything in its power to avoid laws that would further crowd our already packed waiting rooms. The Avalere study specifically addressed a bad proposal that’s come before our legislature before that would further strain the physician shortage. The proposal would require a prescription for many nonprescription medicines that contain pseudoephedrine (PSE), which is the active ingredient in numerous popular cold and allergy medicines such as Claritin-D or Advil Cold and Sinus. Criminals use PSE to produce methamphetamine, but thankfully, Alabama already has some of the toughest laws on the books to stop these criminals from illegally purchasing PSE to divert into meth.

Nasal congestion is a very common symptom of the common cold, the flu, allergies, etc. Pseudoephedrine is by far the most effective oral medication for patients to use for nasal congestion. Pharmacists need to be able to recommend this drug to patients who would benefit from taking it. I do not think we should punish innocent, law-abiding citizens by decreasing their access to this medication and make them spend more money on unnecessary doctor copays and office visits. I personally have to use pseudoephedrine two or three times per year for seasonal allergies and it has always worked well for me. I do not want to go to the doctor’s office two or three extra times per year and pay my expensive co-pay just to get a prescription for something I know has always worked well for me.

Cities in Alabama are routinely identified by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) as some of the nation’s leading “Allergy Capitals,” and 2016 was no exception. A prescription requirement would be ineffective, burdensome and stop law-abiding citizens from purchasing the medicine they rely on. In short, the prescription proposal has many problems, and the Avalere study focused on just one: the impact on the physician shortage in our state. Such a law would create over 21,000 additional provider visits in the first year alone. Imagine how hard it is to see a doctor now. Prescription legislation would only make it harder, not to mention create additional overcrowding, increase wait times and force families to pay unnecessary co-pays.

Thankfully, as I stated before, there is no reason for Alabama to pursue such a bad policy. Our state has some of the toughest anti-meth laws in the country: a lower purchase limit than the federal requirement, and a ban on PSE sales to known drug offenders. Alabama has seen meth lab seizures decrease by almost 80 percent over the past three years, which shows that our state can enact positive legislation that fights the meth problem while also keeping our law-abiding residents healthy and out of the doctor’s office.

There are now products out on the market like Nexafed that contain pseudoephedrine and have meth-deterring technology so the medication can only be used for the intended purpose. Lawmakers should encourage manufacturers to produce more products with this type of technology, not pass laws to restrict law-abiding citizens from purchasing the medication.

Matthew Taheri is from Rainsville, AL and is the pharmacy manager at Kilgore Pharmacy. Taheri earned his Doctor of Pharmacy from Samford University: McWhorter School of Pharmacy.

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