More pills, fewer ills: Oxy needs a medication vending machine

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Illustration courtesy of Alice Feng

Occidental students who have had an injury that needed a little more attention than a Band-Aid or who have suddenly developed a nasty illness are all too familiar with the need for acute, basic medical or pharmaceutical supplies. A natural place to turn to is Emmons Wellness Center. However, access to Emmons is limited because they are closed in the evenings and on weekends. While there are multiple drugstores within a few miles of campus, accessing these supplies at the local CVS or Walgreens can be cumbersome for students in urgent need.

Students on our campus have few resources to turn to when they find themselves suddenly unwell. This is problematic because poor access to health-related resources can potentially lead to many negative health outcomes. It is difficult for individuals in need of basic and acute, but not emergent care, to recover from their injury or illness. This means more time spent unwell, and less time pursuing the activities and goals that make our lives meaningful.

If we look at our neighboring academic institutions, they may provide some ideas about how Occidental students can have access to health care products when they need them. This year, the University of Southern California (USC)introduced a new health and wellness project aimed at improving access to basic medical products for their students. Through a partnership between the university’s student health center and the university pharmacy, USC students have access to products from ibuprofen to emergency contraceptives through a vending machine stocked with over-the-counter medical supplies.

Members of USC’s student government first proposed the idea of the “wellness-to-go” machine in the spring of 2018, according to USC News. Student leaders recognized their peers needed a way to access basic first-aid and medical products on campus if they were unable to go to a pharmacy. USC’s chief medical officer and the university’s pharmacy director agreed and supported the project by providing and maintaining the supplies in the vending machine. The “wellness-to-go” machine is an important example of how academic institutions can effectively support their students.

Occidental lacks round-the-clock access to basic medical supplies. With Emmons’s support, we should provide health supplies through an easily accessible vending machine on campus. Not only would this initiative contribute to the health of students — it would also enable them to take more control over their well-being.

If Occidental were to implement a similar medical vending machine on campus, the college would need to carefully decide which products to stock it with. A vending machine that includes basic medical supplies and over-the-counter medication seems relatively straightforward; students should be able to select bandages, antiseptic products and other first aid supplies as well as cold, flu and allergy medicine. The vending machine should also supply a diverse set of contraceptives to support students’ sexual health and wellness.

A natural next question to ask is if the vending machine should also dispense prescription drugs. Although Emmons has the ability to prescribe medication, the college does not have a pharmacy on campus to dispense it. Arizona State University’s (ASU) health center found itself in a similar situation in 2014 when students did not have access to prescription medication on campus after the university pharmacy closed. ASU also enlisted the help of a health care vending machine, made by the company InstyMeds, which dispenses prescription drugs in the university’s health center.

Despite its convenience, there are risks to including prescription drugs in the Occidental “wellness-to-go” vending machine. Since Emmons has the ability to prescribe medication, the prescription drugs included in the machine should be limited to medication for sudden or acute illnesses, such as antibiotics. The vending machine should not include medication like antidepressants because the need for these is distinct from short-term pharmaceutical treatments; antidepressants must be taken every day, and patients often know when they need to refill their medication. Additionally, Occidental’s vending machines should not include prescription pain medication due to the potential for misuse.

To ensure student safety, Emmons clinicians must also thoroughly consult with students, discuss all potential medication interactions and provide an opportunity for students to ask questions. The vending machine must also provide detailed instructions about the prescriptions and how to take them.

Occidental’s vending machine should also be located in a private but accessible area, such as a quiet corner of the Johnson Student Center. This location would ensure that students are able to access supplies and medication when they need them while allowing them to maintain privacy.

The entire discussion about “wellness-to-go” machines is motivated by a need to promote accessible health care and resources. While there is likely a more efficient way to provide Occidental students with comprehensive, accessible health care — like a fully staffed and fully equipped student health center that is open 24/7 — the “wellness-to-go” machine or a similar initiative is a suitable way to ensure that students have access to personal health products. Until then, it’s probably best to pick up a package of Band-Aids during your next Target run.

Hannah Fishbein is a senior philosophy major. She can be reached at hfishbein@oxy.edu.