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Tucson Students Help Community Prepare for Emergencies

Donna Young

Pharmacy students should seek every opportunity to get involved with emergency preparedness activities, said Shelley Midkiff, a third-year student at the University of Arizona (UA) College of Pharmacy at Tucson.

On November 22, 2002, about 55 UA pharmacy students participated in a six-hour medication-dispensing drill at which personnel screened and counseled more than 2,000 volunteer patients and provided them with mock drug products.

Tucson’s drill, which simulated a response to an anthrax attack on the community, was part of a three-day educational exercise that involved several organizations, including UA’s College of Pharmacy, Pima Community College, the Arizona Air National Guard, Tucson’s Metropolitan Medical Response System, the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, and local fire and county health departments, said UA Associate Pharmacy Professor Bill Fritz, M.S.

The state’s public health department coordinated deployment to Tucson of a National Pharmaceutical Stockpile training, education, and demonstration (TED) package that simulated the contents of a 12-hour push package, a 50-ton container of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

A push package is designed to supplement a community’s medical and pharmaceutical supplies in the event of a disaster or terrorism attack.

TED packages contain 18 specialized cargo containers filled with bottles, placebo tablets, medication repackaging equipment, and drug information sheets that help pharmacists, technicians, and other health professionals practice repackaging and dispensing drug products during a disaster drill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Almost 70 pharmacists and 30 pharmacy technicians participated in the drill, Fritz said.

"Pharmacy was a strong force seen at this event," he said. "And student participation was also strong."

Members of UA’s student pharmacy task force who participated in the drill, attended the preliminary training courses, and complete a presentation on weapons of mass destruction will receive one elective-course credit this year, said Midkiff, who coordinated the students’ involvement in the November exercise.

If students' participation in the task force remains high and there is demand for a similar training program, the university may consider offering the elective credit as an independent study course in the future, said Theodore G. Tong, Pharm.D., UA’s associate dean of pharmacy.

"I hope they recognize that it is important to keep students involved in these types of programs," Midkiff said.

UA’s pharmacy student task force helped design the drill's evaluation form that aided medical responders in determining whether patients were receiving adequate information at the time, Midkiff noted.

"What is important to me is if the patients were retaining the information we were providing to them about the drugs," she said.

Most of the pharmacy students who participated in the exercise acted as victims, Midkiff said. But some students shadowed pharmacists in the dispensing and screening areas to observe how clinicians work with patients in a stressful environment, she added.

"I am hoping that we have proved our value and that we were useful in this type of training situation," she said. "We now have experience and training from taking part in the drill and knowledge gained from our research projects that we can share with others if the opportunity arises."