2004-02-27 / Front Page

Pols Charge Duane Reade With Charging Minorities More

By Howard Schwach
Pols Charge Duane Reade With Charging Minorities More By Howard Schwach

A coalition of politicians and union members joined together on Thursday to denounce the giant drug retailer, Duane Reade, for targeting low-income, mostly-minority areas with higher drug prices.

The genesis of the protest demonstration, which was held on the steps of City Hall, was a report by State Assemblyman Jeff Klein, who represents the 80th Assembly District in the Bronx, entitled, "Filled Pres crip tions, Empty Pockets."

"Duane Reade discriminates in the pricing of its prescription drugs," the report says. "The company charges more on the average for prescription drugs in poor and minority communities."

Joining the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus on the steps of City Hall were officials of Local 338, the union seeking to organize the firm’s workers.

For the study, Klein’s staff focused on ten of the most-used drugs, what Klein called his Market Basket. That market basket included such drugs as Lipitor, Prilosec, Celebrex, Zoloft, Singular, Glucophage, Fosamax and Viagra.

A total of 25 drug stores, both chain stores and independents in each borough were studied. Both CVS and Genovese, which have local stores, were included in the survey along with Duane Reade, although no Rockaway stores were among those included in Klein’s study.

The study found that, with most chains, stores throughout the chain maintained a stable price base. For example, prices for the ten items in the market basket at CVS from store to store ranged from $884 to $888, a difference of four dollars.

At Duane Reade, however, the prices from one store in the chain to another ranged from $856.20 to $990.10, a difference of nearly $134.00.

The study then went on to see if there was a pattern in which stores charged the higher amounts for the market basket drugs.

"Among the 24 Duane Reade pharmacies we surveyed, the eight stores charging the highest prices included the four stores located in the poorest zip codes," the Assembly report said. "Ten of the Duane Reades in our survey were located in zip codes with per capita incomes below $20,000. Five of those stores, or 50% fell into the high price category, compared with 33% for the total Duane Reade sample."

"Duane Reade stores in heavily minority zip codes charged the highest prices [overall]," the report concluded.

City Councilman James Sanders, Jr., who represents the eastern end of the peninsula and is a member of the Caucus, told The Wave, "I am opposed to pharmaceutical profiling of any kind. Any differences that cannot be explained by the normal cost of doing business must be addressed."

Klein and the other politicians at the demonstration and press conference urged the governor to do something about the disparity in drug costs.

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