Harford library, nonprofit join in drug-information service

September 27, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Aside from glitzy ads on TV and in magazines, information on prescription drugs can be tough to come by for Gregory Wollon, a 62-year-old Havre de Grace resident.

"You don't choose a prescription because beautiful people are using it," said Wollon, adding that she has been researching acid reflux medications.

This search could get easier starting today when the Harford County library system plans to launch a service providing access to a Web site from Consumer Reports magazine on costs, types and availability of prescription drugs. As part of the service, librarians will assist patrons in using the site.

The library is collaborating with the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, in what the parties are calling the nation's first such partnership. The service will make its debut at the Abingdon branch with a public information program that includes a demonstration and video presentation. It eventually will be in all branches.

Libraries are a prime source of information for many seniors, said James Macgill, acting administrator of Harford's Office on Aging. He anticipates that many will welcome a new resource for researching medications.

"It is an additional tool provided by a very reputable organization that advises consumers and helps them make informed decisions," he said.

An employee of the library system, Wollon has had a sneak peek at how the service works and found a medication that is much less expensive than a heavily advertised brand.

"I have insurance, but it is still important to learn how to find the best information," she said.

The Web site - www.crbest buydrugs.org/index.html - offers reports on drugs organized in 15 categories. Though the site is available from any computer, assistance in navigating it is what county officials believe will be the biggest benefit to users.

"Seniors will use this program because it will help them stretch their Medicare drug benefits," said Janet Wright, Harford's senior insurance health program coordinator.

Library branches in Baltimore City and Howard and Montgomery counties are planning to start similar programs in the near future, said Gail Shearer, Consumer Union's health policy analysis director.

"It is important now, when pharmaceuticals are so expensive and Medicare and Medicaid are more complicated and confusing," said Audra L. Caplan, director of Harford's libraries.

About 100,000 reports are downloaded from the site each month nationwide, Shearer said, with the most popular queries being for information on cholesterol reducing drugs.

The money for the Harford service is part of a $4 million grant over three years to expand the program nationwide. The grant comes from the National Library of Medicine, the Engelberg Foundation and Consumers Union.

Consumers Union chose Harford because of its growing senior population and county officials' receptiveness, Shearer said. The organization offers similar programs through other outlets - such as nonprofit groups - in four other states.

The publisher decided to test libraries as an outlet for the service and began training staff in Harford this year, Shearer said.mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

The presentation is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today at the Abingdon branch of the Harford County Public Library, 2510 Tollgate Road. Information: 410-273-5601, Ext. 222.

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