SGA takes a shot at saving pharmacy through proposal

Andrea Valdez-Rivas, Reporter

UTEP announced the closure of the pharmacy, located at the Health Center, which is set to close on Dec. 14. The UTEP Student Government Association (SGA) has introduced a proposal to continue the pharmacy to help favor students, per the organization.

The proposal entails changing the pharmacy’s operating class from a Class A to Class D pharmacy.

SGA submitted the proposal to The Prospector to publish on Oct. 15 and inform the student population. However, SGA is  waiting for a response from the Dean of the College of Health Sciences Shafik Dharamsi regarding enactment of the proposal.

Dharamsi and Gary Edens, Vice President of Student Affairs, were  unable to comment on the proposal.

The campus pharmacy currently operates as a community pharmacy, otherwise known as a Class A pharmacy. According to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, a Class A pharmacy is authorized to dispense drugs or devices to the public under a prescription order. These pharmacies can dispense controlled substances—medications that can cause physical and mental dependence and are illegal to consume without a prescription.

SGA president Cristian Botello argues that a Class A pharmacy is too expensive for the university to maintain.

“The main demand—when you look at the prescriptions that are filled—the most common are birth control, antibiotics, and antivirals. That’s where the demand is coming from,” Botello said. “We can’t keep a Class A pharmacy on campus if there’s no demand for controlled substances.”

Class A pharmacies must also operate with at least one pharmacist. But with only one pharmacist running the pharmacy, operation costs increase, according to SGA’s proposal.

UTEP’s pharmacist-in-charge has a salary of $112,750, according to the Government Salaries Explorer, a database created by the Texas Tribune. In other institutions in Texas, like UT Dallas and UT Rio Grande Valley, pharmacists are paid strikingly less, with annual salaries ranging from a mere $900 to $10,400. This information is presented in SGA’s proposal as well.

“Based on the evidence that we found, we’re paying a full-time pharmacist to prescribe medications that a part-time pharmacist can prescribe in a Class D pharmacy,” Botello said.

But if the university is paying a pharmacist a six-figure salary and doesn’t have enough money to keep the pharmacy up and running, how can the loss of funds for the pharmacy be explained?

It has to do with the way the pharmacy sells medications to students. Take the sale of antibiotics, for example. According to the proposal, CVS Pharmacy dispenses common antibiotics such as amoxicillin, azithromycin, doxycycline, and metronidazole, which are priced as $50.59, $30.39, $39.29, $15.89, respectively. Prices for those same drugs differ at Walgreens Pharmacy with higher charges ranging from $17.34 to $70.99. But even with discount coupons from CVS, the prices are no match for UTEP’s pharmacy, which charges the same antibiotics for $18, $7, $11, and $11, respectively. This means that the UTEP pharmacy sells medications at a retail price and as a result, the university cannot recover the amount of the pharmacist’s salary in the expenses of pharmaceuticals.

Essentially, the pharmacy is operating at a monthly deficit as UTEP pays a full-time pharmacist to prescribe medications—a job which a part-time pharmacist can also carry out.

In lieu of a full-time pharmacist, the proposal states that a part-time pharmacist is more convenient. And although a pharmacy technician is unnecessary, “the position is an inexpensive alternative to having a full-time pharmacist.” By doing this, operating costs will drop significantly, and the pharmacy can continue to provide pharmaceutical services for UTEP students.

As stated by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, a Class D pharmacy license authorizes a pharmacy to dispense limited types of drugs or devices, if they are prescribed. In these pharmacies, samples of controlled substances may not be stored, provided or dispensed.

SGA is focusing on the highest demands from students. As said by Botello, though the population of students who use controlled substances is small, he still believes the university should work with those students to get the pharmaceuticals they need, even if they’re not available on the campus pharmacy.

“And with that population that uses controlled substances, we need to work with them so that their insurance—or whatever they’re using—when they go to CVS or Walgreens, [those pharmacies] accept it,” Botello said. “It’s a small population. It’s a very small population.”

It is unclear what exact steps will be taken to assist that “very small population” or how small that population even is. But the concern from students may be apparent. As SGA set out to conduct polls—personally and through a mass email sent out to all students on Thursday, Oct. 18—to learn how many students were informed about the campus pharmacy, the polls will help in determining which necessary steps to take in the effort to save the pharmacy. For now, the proposal is still being reviewed and considered by the College of Health Sciences.

Students aware of the proposal showed support for the proposal, saying that changing the classification of the pharmacy will benefit students and the university.

“I bet it’s a good idea,” said Amber Kincaid, a senior rehabilitation sciences major. “It’s going to allow us to keep the pharmacy, which I think is sometimes needed. And then having it going to Class D, it will help lower the costs, but it’ll still help us keep the benefits of it.”

Yajaira Tarango, a junior social work major, also supports the proposal.

“I think it’s a good idea. It’s going to save the university money but still meet the needs of students,” Tarango stated.

Though it has been decided that the pharmacy will close at the end of the semester, Botello is hopeful that the proposal to save the campus pharmacy will be enacted.

Andrea Valdez-Rivas may be reached at [email protected].