Six cities training postal workers to deliver bioterror meds

Six years after the government first explored the idea of using U.S. postal workers to dispense critical medicines in the wake of terrorist attack and eight months after the Obama administration ordered a plan developed to do so, six unnamed cities have begun the process.

"What we know is: hours matter," Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman, told USA Today, adding that other cities have expressed interest in the plan. Among the cities that are looking into the idea is the nation’s capital.

So far, only the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area has successfully implemented such a plan. Postal workers there have been trained to deliver drugs to a quarter of the city's population in a crisis.

No city is expected to be required to implement a plan and most have separate contingency operations in place that utilize distribution centers that are set up in schools, community centers, health centers and government buildings, USA Today reports.

The White House is interested in using the U.S. Postal Service because of its ability to utilize a delivery system that is cost effective and already in place. It can also deliver medicine to the elderly and those unable to reach distribution centers.

The cost in developing the program is expected to be $1 million per city, according to the White House.

Chris Wittenberg of the National Association of Letter Carriers and a Minneapolis postal worker, told USA Today that setting up the program can be quite complex. Letter carriers need to volunteer, undergo medical testing to make certain they can safely take antibiotics, be fitted for masks and be trained in dispensing the drugs. Routes must also be reorganized and mail deliveries need to be suspended.

Approximately 60 percent of Minneapolis letter carriers volunteered for the program, which was tested in May. They are expected to reach 205,000 households within eight hours. Officials hope to increase that number to encompass 735,000 households, or the entire population of the metro area.