Island Drug closes shop

Island Drug in Clinton is joining thousands of pharmacies nationwide that have shut down.

After the closure of the Oak Harbor location in January, Island Drug in Clinton is joining thousands of pharmacies nationwide that have shut down.

The Clinton location closed at 6 p.m. Monday. According to Owner Aaron Syring, all prescription records were sold to Rite Aid in Freeland, where they became available Tuesday morning. Customers don’t need to call to request prescription transfers.

Rite Aid is now the only pharmacy left on the South End, as confirmed by WhidbeyHealth Public Records Officer Conor O’Brien.

Clinton’s pharmacy closure follows Oak Harbor’s — which shut its doors on Jan. 24 — and La Conner’s — which closed on Jan. 22.

In Oak Harbor, the building on Highway 20 is currently up for sale for $3.5 million. Similarly, all digital records were transferred to Rite Aid, which has an Oak Harbor location. Other pharmacies in the city include Walgreens, Walmart, Saar’s and Safeway.

Local pharmacies aren’t the only ones to be affected, according to Syring and many news articles online.

“The whole industry has been trending this direction for a long time,” he said. “There’s a lot of pharmacy closures.”

In a post on Island Drug’s website, Syring explained pharmacies around the country are closing due to reduced prescription reimbursements and due to insurance companies preventing customers from filling their prescriptions locally.

Pharmacies, Syring wrote, can only accept or reject insurance contracts.

Pharmacy benefit managers, also known as “PBMs,” represent insurance companies when they negotiate with drug manufacturers. PBMs help create lists of drugs that the insurance company will cover and for which conditions. If a manufacturer’s drug makes it to that list, the PBMs get a partial reimbursement known as a rebate.

PBMs are reimbursed at a higher price than the wholesale cost they reimburse pharmacies when a client fills a prescription, barely covering the cost of the drugs.

According to Syring’s post, drug stores like Island Drug have to pay insurance companies to fill about a third of the prescriptions processed by pharmacists.

“From January 2022 through July 2023, 31% were filled receiving less money than it cost us to put the drugs in a bottle, let alone pay the light bill,” Syring wrote. “These 31% cost us well over $100k just factoring in the medication cost, not including labor or anything else.”

Furthermore, many PBMs own mail order pharmacies. To increase mail orders, many plans charge customers more to fill locally and make mail orders cheaper, or mandate mail orders only, Syring wrote.

“It’s not sustainable,” Syring said, adding that he does not foresee the reopening of the Clinton pharmacy.

Customers now have to travel to Rite Aid in Freeland to get their medication, where on top of the commute they might have to adapt to the lack of a drive-thru option.

Island County Public Health Director Shawn Morris said he was saddened to learn about Island Drug shutting down at the two locations on Whidbey, and acknowledged Island Drug’s “essential role” in providing vaccines during the pandemic. The county will monitor community needs, he said, while the Washington Department of Health will coordinate pop-up vaccine clinics for back to school.

According to O’Brien, WhidbeyHealth doesn’t have a plan to open more pharmacies on South Whidbey, but encourages residents in need to use the Community Pharmacy in Coupeville.

Correction: a previous version of this story mistakenly stated that Island County Public Health will coordinate pop-up vaccine clinics. The vaccine clinics will be coordinated by the Washington State Department of Health. We regret the error.