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Mobile Pharmacy Brings Free Over-The-Counter Drugs To 43 Counties

NC MedAssist volunteers arrange stacks of bandages and medicine available at a mobile free pharmacy event in Charlotte.
Claire Donnelly
NC MedAssist volunteers arrange stacks of bandages and medicine available at a mobile free pharmacy event in Charlotte.

A Charlotte-based mobile free pharmacy aims to make over-the-counter medicines more accessible across the state.

Sixty-five-year-old Geraldine Stewart picks up a plastic bottle of magnesium tablets and adds it to the lineup of vitamins piled on a U-shape of tables at the Camino Community Center in northeast Charlotte. 

Stewart said she has volunteered with NC MedAssist’s mobile free pharmacy for nearly four years. But her first experience with the program was on the receiving end. 

"I needed medicine one time and I didn't have any type of insurance. I didn’t have Medicaid. I didn’t have anything," Stewart said. 

She said NC MedAssist helped her get blood pressure medication. 

The mobile free pharmacy program, which started in 2015, visited 43 counties last year--packing up boxes of ibuprofen, antacids and allergy medicine and setting up in churches and community centers. Anyone 18 and older can receive over-the-counter drugs donated by companies like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. 

NC MedAssist Events Coordinator Kinzie Luce said an average of 400 to 600 people attend each event, though she said sometimes as many as 1,000 line up for medicine.

“We’ll give them about 10 items and that can be digestive aids, pain relief, children’s medicine, vitamins. Pretty much anything they can think of that they might find in their local pharmacy,” Luce said. 

Ana Patricia Perez said she and her husband were not aware of the mobile pharmacy--they went to Camino for the food pantry--but said she was leaving with medicine. 

“Ya le dijimos que solamente es para la gripa. Para cuando de repente da la gripa uno. Pero un dia nos iremos a la playa vamos a necesitar il bloqueador,” Perez said. 

(Translation: “They told us that this is for the flu. For when you suddenly get the flu. And one day when we go to the beach, we will need [this] sunscreen.”)

The mobile pharmacy program complements NC MedAssist’s free over-the-counter pharmacy at its west Charlotte headquarters. 

Prescription medications are also available to uninsured residents who don’t qualify for Medicaid or help from the Veterans Administration and who are at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. The Kaiser Family Foundation says 34% of North Carolina residents meet that threshold.

So far, 14 mobile free pharmacy events are planned for 2020, including another in Charlotte on January 30.