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Florida bill would allow ATM-like machines to dispense medications

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ATMs may soon be dispensing more than $20 bills in Florida. One lawmaker wants to see them doling out medications as well.

Senate Bill 708, filed by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, would allow installation of “automated pharmacy systems” (APS) in “dispensing kiosks” outside pharmacies.

A companion House bill has not yet emerged for SB 708, which would prohibit the machines from being stocked with Schedule II, III, IV, and V drugs.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Royal Palm Beach, filed similar “Automated Pharmacy Systems” companion bills during the 2019 session.

While Brandes’ SB 1170 never got a committee hearing, Willhite’s HB 687 was approved by the House in a 109-0 vote before dying in the Senate.

At least 25 states allow APS machines to be installed in various settings. According to ResearchAndMarkets.com, the global APS market now is $5.1 billion and is expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2024.

Huston said the measure will help pharmacists do their jobs, save pharmacies and consumers money and give patients greater access to prescription drugs.

SB 708 requires a pharmacist supervise the transaction via a telemedicine portal with the same protections and verifications patients receive at a pharmacy counter.

Automated kiosks already dispense medication in long-term care facilities, hospices and prisons, but Hutson’s proposal would allow ATM-like dispensing machines to be installed for outpatients outside pharmacies and in other settings.

Huston said pilot programs in several hospitals across Florida have shown promise. Retailers and most pharmacy corporations support it, although independent pharmacists may oppose it, he said.

Consumers will benefit by having access to prescribed medications after business hours and in rural areas where there may not be any nearby pharmacies, Hutson said.

Florida state law allows for institutional automated pharmacies where a pharmacist “need not be physically present at the site of the automated pharmacy system and may supervise the system electronically.”

The statute states that “a Florida-licensed pharmacist shall be required to develop and implement policies and procedures designed to verify that the medicinal drugs delivered by the automated dispensing system are accurate and valid and that the machine is properly restocked,” current state law says.

American physicians have been experimenting with in-office “ATM-style” medication dispensers since at least 2005 to restrict drug-sampling activities by the brand name pharmaceutical industry, according to Pharmacy Times.

An Aetna Health Insurance pilot project provided Philadelphia area doctor’s offices with PDUs that dispense only generic medications.

According to Intercontinental Medical Statistics (IMS), the largest vendor of U.S. physician prescribing data, doctors provided patients with $16 billion worth of free branded drug samples in 2004, a practice that critics say limits prescribing less expensive generic drugs.

In 2017, South Africa became the world’s first country to use ATM-like “pharmacy dispensing units” (PDUs) in public locations, including shopping centers, to dispense chronic medication.

The PDUs were installed throughout the country to help HIV patients gain easier access to medications. About 7.9 million of South Africa’s 58 million people are HIV positive with 4.3 million on medications, the Human Sciences Research Council reported in 2018.

The machines have reduced waiting times for prescriptions from an average of 12 hours to 3 minutes, according to Right to Care, an international non-profit that helped the South African national health department install and maintain PDUs funded by the German and U.S. governments.