Rite Aid, which filed for bankruptcy last week, is poised to shrink its retail footprint as it grapples with falling sales, mounting debt and a slew of lawsuits tied to the opioid epidemic. Credit: Mike Blake / Reuters

After decades of expansion, the nation’s largest drugstore chains are closing hundreds of stores as they reorient their operations against rising competition, a crush of opioid lawsuits and other forces — relegating many already-vulnerable communities into pharmacy deserts.

Rite Aid, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, CVS and Walgreens have signaled over the past two years plans to collectively shutter more than 1,500 stores. Public health experts have already seen the fallout, noting that the first neighborhoods to lose their pharmacies are often predominantly Black, Latinx and low-income.

“According to our estimates, about one in four neighborhoods are pharmacy deserts across the country,” said Dima Qato, an associate professor at the University of Southern California who studies pharmacy access and health equity. “These closures are disproportionately affecting communities that need pharmacies […]

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