Reprinted from North Carolina Health News
Christie Woolard, manager of what will soon be arguably the most remote pharmacy in North Carolina, joked that she has a “terrible commute to work each day.”
Accessible only by ferry or private plane, the island is about 26 miles from the mainland coast. It was purportedly a favorite hideout of the pirate Blackbeard, who was killed there by British mercenaries in 1718.
While Ocracoke’s isolation might have been advantageous for bygone buccaneers, it presents a challenge for contemporary islanders in need of prescription drugs.
The unincorporated community has for years relied on Beach Pharmacy, a drugstore on neighboring Hatteras Island, for next-day deliveries. But those deliveries can be delayed if choppy waters or high winds — or both — prevent the shop’s couriers from safely crossing the Pamlico Sound on the state ferry system. That leaves residents at risk of running out of medicine, or lacking if they need emergency medications.
That shouldn’t be an issue once Woolard’s pharmacy — the first ever pharmacy on Ocracoke Island — opens. The facility is within walking distance of most homes in the small village that occupies the southern end of the island, which had a population of 797 permanent residents at the 2020 Census.
Woolard moved to Ocracoke in July. A 1992 graduate of Campbell University, she spent most of her career as a pharmacist in North Carolina before taking a break to travel the U.S. in 2019.
“I decided it was time to pull up my roots,” she said. “I had been all over the country — New Mexico, South Dakota, Washington — and I just got homesick. When I saw the ad for this, I was like, ‘It’s time to get back closer to home.’”
Surprisingly complex launch
On a recent November afternoon, Woolard was working to secure stock for the empty metal shelves lining the pharmacy’s walls. It has been difficult to find a wholesaler that will deliver to the island, she said.
Various other challenges have delayed the opening of the pharmacy, which was first announced by Ocracoke Health Center, the community’s nonprofit medical clinic, in June 2022. The center’s leadership originally expected the facility to be up and running by spring or summer of this year.
“I’ve been a pharmacist for a long time, but I didn’t know how complex getting a pharmacy open was,” Woolard said. “I figured it would take me a month of work and we’d be done. I had no idea it would be this complex.”
She hopes to finally begin filling prescriptions by January, giving the pharmacy a few months to prepare for the island’s busy summer season. Tens of thousands of travelers flock to Ocracoke to fish, surf and sightsee from June to August, swelling the population.
The Ocracoke Health Center Pharmacy will be open to anyone visiting the island, making it the first public pharmacy in Hyde County. The county’s only other pharmacy is restricted to patients of Engelhard Medical Center, the health center’s sister clinic on the mainland.
“From a moral and ethical standpoint, I can’t say, ‘You can’t come here. Go to the Walmart up the street,’” Woolard said. “There is no Walmart up the street.”
Even when it comes to over-the-counter drugs, the options are limited. The local Variety Store is the only establishment that sells common items such as allergy medications and pain relievers.
Woolard said the pharmacy will offer a selection of antihistamines, vitamins and other over-the-counter drugs when it opens. They will not be sold at the high “resort prices” that are commonly charged in other tourism-centric locations, she said.
The pharmacy can’t open soon enough for Jim Ogden, who has lived on the island for more than a decade.
Ogden has brain cancer and takes multiple medications a day. His prescriptions are currently filled at Beach Pharmacy in Hatteras and then dropped off at Ocracoke Health Center for pickup.
But there were several instances this past summer when his drugs arrived late because the ferry wasn’t running.
“If there’s high winds or high tides, they can’t deliver,” he said. “And if I can’t get my medication, I’m in trouble.”
Assuming the Ocracoke pharmacy had Ogden’s medications in stock, he’d be able to get them the way most people on the mainland get their prescription drugs — by picking them up the same day at their local pharmacy.
Ogden said he plans to have his prescriptions sent to Ocracoke Health Center Pharmacy when it opens. He predicts that many fellow islanders will do the same.
“It’s going to be much more convenient,” he said.
This article first appeared on North Carolina Health News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license. Coastal Review partners with North Carolina Health News to help bring our readers relevant news of the coast.