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Prescription drug delivery by drone coming to Washtenaw County


Starting next year, the skies over Washtenaw County will be a bit busier: drones will be delivering packages of medicine, according to officials with Michigan Medicine.

Officials with Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s medical system, announced plans for the flying prescription delivery service Wednesday. The service is intended to complement local pharmacy and other drug delivery services.

Dana Habers, Michigan Medicine’s chief innovation officer, said the drone service is an innovative way to deliver prescriptions from its new specialty pharmacy in Dexter to the patients who need them.

“We’re here for them fighting to keep our health system highly reliable, safe, and accessible for everyone who needs our help,” said Habers.

The drones will carry a variety of prescriptions, but no “controlled substances,” like opioids, she said.

Michigan Medicine is partnering with the drone delivery service Zipline. The company operates in seven countries. In the U.S., Zipline operates in three other states (Utah, Arkansas and North Carolina).

Conor French is Zipline’s chief regulatory officer. He said the company’s drone system is designed to operate quietly and accurately.

“It’s precise enough to deliver to deliver to someone’s patio table or to their door step, and is nearly inaudible. It’s designed to actually sound like rustling leaves,” said French.

French said he is confident that Zipline’s drone fleet will be able to operate in extremely cold conditions, something that would be important during Michigan winters.

Plans call for operating the drone delivery service only in Washtenaw County. But a Michigan Medicine official suggested the service may eventually expand to other locations in Michigan.

Officials said an exact start date for the drone delivery system has not yet been set.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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