Black and Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles County and other U.S. municipalities had fewer pharmacies than White or diverse neighborhoods in 2007-2015, a fact that may be an overlooked contributor to persistent racial and ethnic health disparities, according to USC research published this week.

Pharmacies are increasingly vital points of care for essential health services. In addition to filling prescriptions to treat chronic health conditions, pharmacists dispense emergency doses of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses, contraceptives to prevent unplanned pregnancy and COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

But many neighborhoods in major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Memphis lack convenient access to a pharmacy, according to research published in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs.

“We focused on cities because of racial/ethnic residential segregation and the fact that more than 80 percent of the Black and Latino population in the U.S. live in cities,” said senior author Dima Mazen Qato, Hygeia Centennial Chair and associate professor of pharmacy at the USC School of Pharmacy and senior fellow at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics.

“Our findings suggest that addressing disparities in geographic access to pharmacies—including pharmacy closures—is imperative to improving access to essential medications and other health care services in segregated minority neighborhoods,” added Qato, who directs the Program on Medicines and Public Health.

Prevalence of so-called “pharmacy deserts” varied widely across cities. In New York and Philadelphia, for example, fewer than 10 percent of neighborhoods met the definition of pharmacy deserts.

In all cities, segregated Black or Latino neighborhoods, or both, were more likely to be pharmacy deserts than White or diverse neighborhoods. These disparities were most pronounced in Los Angeles, Chicago, Albuquerque, Dallas, Memphis, Boston, Milwaukee, Baltimore and Philadelphia.