Mailmen might deliver meds during another anthrax attack

If there ever is another anthrax attack, the mailman might deliver your antibiotics.

Federal health officials are beginning a project in Minneapolis-St. Paul to let letter carriers stockpile a personal supply of emergency antibiotics so they are protected and ready to go deliver aid to the rest of the city at a moment's notice.

“These letter carriers are being asked to put their lives on the line to help their communities,” Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said Wednesday. By ensuring they are protected first, “the carriers can be ready on short notice.” The project aims to overcome a big hurdle of emergency planning. The government has lots of drugs stockpiled in case of future bioterrorism, but little way to get them quickly to panicked citizens.

The U.S. Postal Service came forward. Carriers could provide “a front-end quick strike,” added the Health and Human Services Department's emergency planning chief, William Raub.

But could letter carriers successfully deliver medications to a great number of homes , when the carriers might be mobbed? Would they be willing?

To address the first issue, test projects in Seattle, Philadelphia and Boston paired letter carriers with police officers on holidays. Carriers delivered empty pill bottles along with a “This is a Test” flier explaining what was happening. In Philadelphia, 50 carriers reached about 53,000 households in eight hours, Raub said.

As for getting volunteers, the post office and its unions told the government that carriers would need protection.

That led to the idea of letting carriers store doxycycline in their homes. In an emergency, they could start taking the medication while the government raced in more supplies for distribution.