Americans have not stockpiled prescription drugs in recent weeks because of Y2K fears, which means any last-minute rush to hoard drugs will not disrupt the nation's pharmaceutical supplies, officials said yesterday.
"Americans have used common sense. They have not overreacted, they have not panicked," Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala said.
Early this year, industry officials worried that the public might try to hoard medications. But federally commissioned surveys from October through the first half of December found no significant increase in the purchase of drugs or other medical supplies. One survey of doctors and pharmacists found only 3 percent wanting more medicine than usual.
Because the pharmaceutical system normally has a 60-to-90 day supply of drugs in its pipeline, she said, "the danger of disruption caused by fear of stockpiling is now past. And even if there is an unexpected last-minute buying, the system will weather the event."
The remarks came at a news briefing where HHS officials reported that their computer systems for about 300 programs, ranging from Medicare to the Indian Health Service to child support enforcement, have been fixed.
But some states may face Y2K problems in systems that administer Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Americans. Officials described Delaware, the District, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming as at "medium risk." But emergency backup plans should ensure the states "ought to be able to take care of any situations that do arise," Deputy HHS Secretary Kevin Thurm said.
Military to Disable Some Web Sites
To safeguard computers against hackers during the Y2K weekend, the Pentagon said yesterday that some defense agencies would temporarily shut down their Internet sites beginning New Year's Eve day.
Some military installations around the world "have chosen at the local level to take their Web sites off line during the rollover period as an added precaution. We're saying that's fine by us," said Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman.
Bases temporarily closing Internet sites include Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, said Maj. Andree Swanson, an Air Force spokeswoman. The Air Force, she said, has told its 900 webmasters to shut down sites if they think their systems might be vulnerable during a holiday period.
Quigley said he did not have an exact count of defense agencies taking Web sites off line, but noted that none of the shutdowns would undermine military operations. For example, he said, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which provides information on military pay and retirement, will be taken down as a precaution.
"It's not likely to be missed at midnight on a holiday," Quigley said.
Don't Check That Dial Tone
Federal officials said yesterday that the nation's telecommunications system is ready for Y2K but asked that the public not pick up their telephones to check a dial tone or make unnecessary calls, especially at midnight Friday. Too many calls by the Y2K curious will jam up the system and create busy signals, they said.
"This is a basic network congestion issue that we see every Mother's Day," Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Powell said. "This is Mother's Day on Viagra."