Pharmacy

Thursday afternoon

Listening Post

Life ater 9-11-01

October 13, 2001

It's quiet here. NeighborCare pharmacist Yola Kwapisz finally has time to locate a Q&A on anthrax that she intends to copy and leave on the side table in the waiting room.

As the pharmacist stands with the literature in hand, a customer enters the store. Anthrax doesn't frighten her, she tells Kwapisz. It's those new strains of bacteria that might be uncovered from rainforests in Brazil as they are stripped, she says.

The pharmacist agrees. She is not one to panic.

She could handle the questions about anthrax put to her in the six days since a 63-year-old photo editor in Florida died of the horrible disease. What caught her off guard was the demand for prescriptions for Cipro - ciprofloxacin, the antidote for the deadly inhaled form of the disease.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's Today section gave the incorrect daily dosage of Cipro, the antibiotic prescribed for confirmed cases of anthrax. It is two pills a day for 60 days.
The Sun regrets the error.

The calls trickled in at first, for 30, 40, even 60 pills of Cipro. She knew these weren't for ordinary medical problems. A sinus infection or a urinary tract infection could be cleared up with one Cipro a day for 10 days. Treatment of anthrax calls for Cipro once a day for 60 days.

Doctors told her they were saying no to patients who asked for a prescription. They told her it is most useful after an exposure.

But the doctors couldn't convince everybody.

On a typical day, Kwapisz stocks two bottles of 100 pills each.

By last weekend, she was running out. "Sorry, I can only give you 20 pills because of the panic," she told a customer.

The quick demand for the drug after the news of the Florida cases surprised her. "Deal with it when [and if] it comes," Kwapisz told staff who asked if they should buy the drug.

On Monday, the wholesaler said she could order only two bottles - 200 pills - at a time. Fine, she said, she would place an order every day. She kept a bottle in reserve to fill prescriptions for the usual indications. Most customers understood, but not all. "What do you mean you don't have it?" a man asked when he came for his prescription.

Wednesday when she called in her order, the wholesaler told her there was none.

She would learn that the day before her supply was cut off, the federal government ordered U.S. embassies to stock up on Cipro. And Baer AG, the drug's manufacturer, decided to up production by 25 percent to meet demand.

With no Cipro in stock, though, Kwapisz stopped taking prescriptions.

And they have stopped coming in.

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