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'My prescription was in purgatory': Pharmacy staff shortages leave Coloradans without medicine

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Posted at 6:30 PM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 09:57:00-04

DENVER — It's a worker shortage that could be bad for your health. Our Contact Denver7 team keeps hearing from people desperate to get the medicine they need but struggling to get prescriptions filled.

The bottom line is Colorado needs more pharmacists and pharmacy techs, but, until then, patients are paying the price.

When Christina Cimino couldn't stop coughing last Friday, she went to urgent care. They called in a prescription to her local Walgreens in Northglenn.

"I go to call them to check if my prescription is ready Friday night, and the pharmacy is closed," Cimino said. "I'm like, 'You got to be kidding me.' So, I call again — pharmacy is closed."

It turns out that her Walgreens posted new hours, and it was closed at 6 p.m. Friday and for the entire weekend. On top of that, she said they could not transfer her prescription to another Walgreens.

"My prescription was in purgatory. They see it in the system, but they can't release it because it's a narcotic. It's stuck at this particular location," Cimino said. "So, I spent the whole weekend coughing my brains out, and, honestly, I just want to breathe. I really just want to breathe."

For months, Contact Denver7 has been reporting on long lines, delayed prescriptions and staffing shortages at Colorado pharmacies.

"This is nationwide. This isn't just in Colorado, but certainly in Colorado, shortage of technicians is a real problem," said Emily Zadvorny, the executive director of the Colorado Pharmacists Society. "We're seeing a higher shortage and a higher percentage of people leaving in our retail chains. And since most people get their prescriptions from a retail chain, they're going to notice that."

Zadvorny said hiring more people is the solution, but it's not that simple.

"Those people aren't just found right now. There's just not the people to hire to do that," she said.

In a statement to Contact Denver7, Walgreens responded:

"Due to patient privacy laws, we cannot comment on specific patients. Generally speaking, what we have been seeing in some areas is consistent with what many other healthcare entities have been experiencing - staffing challenges due to the ongoing labor shortage and also recent demand for COVID-related services. As a result, there are some instances in which we’ve had to adjust or reduce pharmacy operating hours as we work to balance staffing and resources in the market to best meet customer demand. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this temporary situation may have caused. We are currently reviewing policies, procedures, and training with our team members to help prevent any potential disruptions for our customers and patients."

"I literally spent my whole weekend on the phone on again, off again," Cimino said. "So much for resting when you don't feel good."

Cimino said she eventually had to go back to urgent care to get a different prescription that she filled at a different pharmacy.

"I'm done using this as a pharmacy for sure. I mean, honestly, I'll give CVS across the street by a business or somewhere else. So, I'm not gonna put myself in this position again."

We asked pharmacists what you can do to get the medicine you need and here are some of their recommendations:

  • Be proactive. If you need a prescription immediately, make that clear.
  • Order refills earlier than usual.
  • Some pharmacies are cutting staff and hours more than others, so it may be time to look for a different pharmacy before something like this happens to you.

Editor's note: Denver7 seeks out audience tips and feedback to help people in need, resolve problems and hold the powerful accountable. If you know of a community need our call center could address, or have a story idea for our investigative team to pursue, please email us at or call (720) 462-7777. Find more Contact Denver7 stories here.