Patients having trouble filling a prescription in Ontario may find things easier this spring, because they can turn to their pharmacist rather than their family doctor. Recent changes to the provincial Drug and Pharmacies Regulation Act mean pharmacists now have the authority to refill an existing prescription for up to 90 days.

The changes came as welcome news to Catherine Holborn in Windsor, who had spent days trying to get ahold of her nurse practitioner in order to get her medication. "I inevitably ended up sitting in the emergency room this morning for three hours to get refills for my prescription written and come and have them filled," said Holborn.

Rocco D'Angelo hears stories like Holborn's all the time at his independent pharmacy, the Royal Windsor Pharmacy on Park Street West. He told CBC even pharmacists have trouble getting ahold of a patient's healthcare provider. "We fax doctors probably 20-30 times a day to get extended medication prescriptions," said D'Angelo.

Just how long the renewal is for, is up to the pharmacist. "If I think the doctor can be seen in a month, then I will extend them 30 days instead 90,"said D'Angelo. "So it's totally up to our discretion, and we don't want to have a 90 day period where the doctor has not been seen."

No refills of narcotics

Pharmacists will mostly be refilling standard prescriptions for things like blood pressure medication. What they cannot do, however, is authorize refills of prescriptions for narcotics or targeted substances.

The Act states that the pharmacist is also required to first make "reasonable efforts" to contact the prescriber, and be certain whoever prescribed the drug would authorize the refill if that person was available to do so.

The patient must have been prescribed the drug for a chronic condition and have a stable history with that drug before the prescription can be refilled.