Ann Hui Ching, Contributing Photographer

By the end of November, a fully functioning pharmacy on wheels will be on the streets in Waterbury, Connecticut. 

Founded by Sandra Springer, a professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, and her team, the “Integrated Mobile Opioid Treatment and Infectious disease cOordinated care in your Neighborhood,” also known as “InMOTION,” aims to bring a functioning pharmacy to people’s homes and make health care more accessible to Connecticut residents. 

With the van, Springer said that she and her team hope to offer an additional healthcare resource between providers in existing health systems and patients in their homes. 

“What we really are trying to do is build bridges and linkages,” Springer said. 

In 2022, Springer, who primarily researches HIV and AIDS, won the Avant-Garde Award Program for HIV and Substance Use Disorder Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The award gave her a grant to research new ways to treat people with HIV, hepatitis C and substance use disorders. Springer said she sought to find a more holistic and accessible solution. 

The van will offer a pharmacist, community health outreach workers, telehealth clinicians and a dispensary. 

According to Osama Abdelghany, a lead pharmacist on the project, the van will be able to dispense and prescribe medications, optimizing drug therapy for patients. 

“Pharmacists have always been the most accessible health care providers,” Abdelghany said. “If you think of COVID days when people needed medication to treat or vaccines, retail pharmacies were the go to. Mobile pharmacy will add an innovative dimension to pharmacy care.” 

Abdelghany noted that some patients face transportation, financial and language barriers to accessing quality healthcare, even in their own communities. 

Abdelghany said that the van will help patients who struggle to face these challenges. 

“Some patients don’t even know how to navigate our health care and find support,” Abdelghany said. “The mobile pharmacy would be a game changer.” 

Springer said that the van will provide more than short-term medical care, creating a mobile hub that assists patients in many ways. The van will house community health outreach workers who can educate patients on potential medical and other resources, Springer told the News. 

“[The van] is about trying to treat the whole person and bringing services to them that may include other things outside of HIV, including blood pressure care and helping with housing applications,” Springer said. 

Other community health vehicles, such as the Yale Community Health Van, currently offer medical services, but can only provide limited pharmaceuticals, according to Frederick Altice, the creator of the Yale Community Health Van.

Altice added that Project InMOTION also may help decrease the stigma surrounding health care. 

“This is really meeting them where they are, at a time when they might be accessible to do this work and get the care that they need,” Altice said. “And it reduces the opportunity for stigma, because it’s saying, ‘we are here for you.’”

Springer and her team worked with Connecticut legislators to pass a law allowing pharmaceuticals to be dispensed beyond their designated storefronts. 

General Assembly passed the law in June 2023. 

“The legislation permits pharmacies to operate outside of licensed premises that they were originally intended for,” said Rodrick Marriott, the director of the Connecticut Drug Control Division. 

With this legislation, Project InMOTION now can grant people access to pharmacies despite where patients live or transportation issues they face, according to Springer. 

This legislation still puts a limit on what drugs the pharmacists can dispense, including controlled substances, according to Abdelghany. He said that buprenorphine, an FDA approved medication to treat opioid use, is restricted. In order to overcome this legal barrier, the team said that they would have to change federal, not state, law. 

“We are working with the DEA to change the regulations and allow us to stock and dispense controlled substances, which will be very important to this patient population,” Abdelghany said.  

In the meantime, Heather Goodwin, a pharmacist who will work with the van, said that pharmacists in the van can still send prescriptions of buprenorphine to brick and mortar pharmacies for delivery options. 

Springer was one of two researchers to win the Avant Garde Award Program for HIV and Substance Use Disorder Research in 2022. 

Erin Hu covers the Yale-New Haven Health System for the SciTech desk. Originally from Brookfield, Wisconsin, she is a first-year in Branford College majoring in neuroscience and global affairs.