The Other Baltimore CVS Story

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The Penn-North CVS became a focal point during last year’s unrest in Baltimore, with the pharmacy’s looting and arson serving (to some) as a symbol of a city spinning out of control.

But there’s another story to be told about pharmacies in West Baltimore–namely, that there aren’t nearly enough of them. Plenty of attention has been paid to food deserts — that is, neighborhoods where residents don’t have easy access to fresh, nutritious food — but the concept of a pharmacy desert is less well-known. Even so, as Kaiser Health News reports, several of Baltimore’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods are places where residents don’t have easy access to the medicine and supplies that they need. Considering that these neighborhoods often have high rates of various health issues, the problem becomes even more compounded.

This is definitely not just a Baltimore problem; one study in Chicago found that 32 percent of the city qualified as a pharmacy desert, and that predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods–whether urban or suburban–were persistently underserved compared to whiter neighborhoods.

Now that the infamous West Baltimore CVS has re-opened, neighborhood residents’ burdens are somewhat eased. But the pharmacy desert remains an under-discussed problem. “If we had as many pharmacies as we had liquor stores, it would provide us more opportunity to educate, and promote health and wellness, as opposed to alcohol and cigarettes,” said Jennifer Joseph, pharmacy director at Baltimore’s Total Health Care, told KHN. “You ride down the streets and what do you see? Abandoned home, abandoned home, abandoned home and liquor store. Bringing that CVS back says a lot for the city.”



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  1. I spoke to a woman who lives nearby the CVS and she said they don’t carry opioids since the reopening so she still has to take 2 buses to fill her prescriptions for her chronic pain.

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