WASHINGTON — The Postal Service is ready to deliver lifesaving drugs to about a quarter of the residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul, the only metropolitan area in the nation where letter carriers have been trained to dispense medication after a large-scale terrorist attack involving biological weapons.
Six years after the government began exploring the idea of using postal workers as rapid-response medicine dispensers and eight months after President Obama ordered government agencies to develop a plan to do so, efforts are underway in six cities to train workers to deliver the drugs needed to counter anthrax or other potentially deadly agents, the White House says.
The White House won't name the six cities, and Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa says she can't talk about whether more cities are interested in the voluntary program.
Cities are not required to adopt the plan, and most have separate plans in place to set up distribution centers in schools, community health centers and other government buildings where people can go to pick up drugs in the event of an attack. The White House, however, says using the Postal Service is a cost-effective and efficient way to create a reliable system for drug distribution in a crisis because postal workers can get drugs to the elderly and others who can't get out easily or wait in long lines.
"We need the capability" to get lifesaving drugs to people in a hurry because in the case of an anthrax attack, in particular, "what we know is: hours matter," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro says.
He says "many cities have expressed interest" in the program, especially now that there is a successful model to follow in Minneapolis.
The nation's capital is among them. "We're still looking at it," says Dena Iverson of the District of Columbia Department of Health.
The projected cost to set up the program and train postal workers: $1 million per city, according to the White House.