Minneapolis-St. Paul to conduct large scale MCM distribution test

Approximately 40,000 Minneapolis-St. Paul residents are scheduled to receive an empty pill bottle in their mailboxes on May 6 as part of a test of the area's bioterrorism emergency antibiotic distribution system.

The empty pill bottle represents the medical countermeasures to be given to the public in the event of a bioterror attack using an airborne agent such as anthrax, according to StarTribune.com.

The drill, named "Operation Medicine Delivery," is being conducted as a joint effort between the Minnesota Department of Health and the U.S. Postal Service. More than 300 mail carriers are participating in the exercise, which crosses four zip codes and hopes to reach at least 37,000 residences.

In a real emergency, mail carriers would be expected to deliver preventative doses of medication to residents within the first 48 hours of an attack, although much of the distribution effort in that critical time would be carried out through the use of local dispensing sites that would be run by area public health organizations.

The exercise in the Twin Cities will be the first full-scale test of a system that has tried in Boston, Philadelphia and Seattle with some success. Minnesota health officials, who have been developing the system since 2004, expect other states to closely watch the outcome.

"We made it a priority," health department spokesman Buddy Ferguson said, StarTribune.com reports. "We really felt it was important to take the lead on this."