City of Midland to Monitor Medications to Prevent Disease

Nick Lawton
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND - Tall City officials said a grant from the Texas Department of State Health Services and the University of Pittsburgh could help give them a preemptive strike to cut down on sickness outbreaks by alerting the people sooner.

This system tracks a disease through the drugs citizens buy over-the-counter: your Aspirins, Tylenol's, Theraflu's, Pepto-Bismols, and some pharmacists said it could be too much.

$72,000 in funds approved by the Midland City Council on Tuesday will be used to conduct disease surveillance monitoring.

What that means is a software database that will combine how many over-the-counter drugs are purchased and how many of which types are purchased from pharmacies inside and outside retailers in a week.

"We're looking for indicators to see if something is happening in our community," Midland Health Manager, Sal Garcia, said. "For example, we see a lot of people buying Pepto-Bismol. Is it because we have a virus going around or is it something else, like a food-borne disease? We can inform our citizens about 'Hey, be advised, we have a stomach virus going around.'"

The software has already been developed and is already being used by several retailers.

Now officials want the software everywhere over-the-counter meds are sold.

The results of the numbers will be checked weekly by the Midland Health Department, and if an outbreak of sickness is detected, health officials will relay the warnings to physicians, clinics, and emergency rooms as well as the public.

But there's a privacy issue with watching meds.

Officials said no personal information will be gathered, only drug numbers.

"The software's already been developed," Garcia said. "It's just a question of getting that data out and bringing it back here for us to analyze it in Midland County or the City of Midland."

But some Midland pharmacists said the effort is too costly when a simpler, cheaper solution can be found.

"I wouldn't agree with that part," Pharmacist Jane Patel, with DC Pharmacy, said. "The main reason is there are so many other ways they can prevent diseases. They can call us or pharmacists can call them and say 'Hey, we noticed three or four numbers of the flu.' That will be a lot more simple process than wasting all of this money."

Pharmacists also said that in order to keep medical misinformation from being sent out, the city needs to have medically trained people analyzing the week's results.

"The City of Midland needs somebody trained to evaluate the data," Patel said. "It's not a simple process."

For any sickness season, be it Flu or other, this system could soon be put to the test.