Conference Coverage

Low-income DC communities have restricted access to iPLEDGE pharmacies


Residents of low-income communities in the District of Columbia have restricted access to a pharmacy registered and activated with iPLEDGE, results from a survey demonstrated.

Nidhi Shah, third-year medical student, Geoerge Washington University, Washington

Nidhi Shah

Prescription of isotretinoin is regulated by the iPLEDGE program, which strives to ensure that no female patient starts isotretinoin therapy if pregnant and that no female patient on isotretinoin therapy becomes pregnant. “Over the years, many studies have criticized the program by demonstrating that iPLEDGE has promoted health care disparities,” Nidhi Shah said during a virtual meeting held by the George Washington University department of dermatology. “For example, racial minorities and women are more likely to be underprescribed isotretinoin, as well as face more delays in treatment.”

In an effort to evaluate the geographic distribution of iPLEDGE pharmacies in Washington DC, and its correlation with sociodemographic factors, Ms. Shah, a third-year medical student at the George Washington University, Washington, and colleagues obtained a list of active pharmacies in Washington from the local government. They also surveyed each outpatient pharmacy in the District of Columbia to verify their iPLEDGE registration status, for a total of 146 pharmacies.

Ms. Shah reported that 82% of all outpatient pharmacies were enrolled in iPLEDGE. However, enrollment significantly varied by the type of pharmacy. For example, 100% of chain pharmacies were enrolled, compared with 46% of independent pharmacies and 60% of hospital-based pharmacies.

When the researchers evaluated the number and type of iPLEDGE pharmacy by each of the eight wards in Washington, they observed a high density of pharmacies in wards 1 and 2, communities with a generally low proportion of residents who live in poverty, and low density of pharmacies in wards 7 and 8, communities with a higher proportion of residents who live in poverty. In addition, there were more independent than chain pharmacies in wards 7 and 8, and residents in those wards had a greater distance to travel to reach an iPLEDGE pharmacy, compared with residents who live in the other wards.

When Ms. Shah and colleagues examined the correlation between pharmacies per 10,000 residents and specific sociodemographic factors, they observed a strong, positive correlation between iPLEDGE pharmacy density and median household income (P = .0003). On the other hand, there was a strong negative correlation between iPLEDGE pharmacy density and the percentage of individuals with public insurance (P less than .0001), as well as the percentage of nonwhite individuals (P = .0009).

“Our study highlights the lack of isotretinoin-dispensing pharmacies in low-income communities,” Ms. Shah concluded. “Not only are there fewer such pharmacies available in low income communities, but the residents must also travel further to reach them. The spatial heterogeneity of iPLEDGE pharmacies may be an important patient barrier to timely access of isotretinoin, especially for female patients who have a strict 7-day window to collect their medication. We hope that future public health reform works to close this gap.”

The virtual meeting included presentations that had been slated for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Shah reported having no disclosures.

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