Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia pharmacies taking steps to prevent drug shortages during COVID-19

In a move to reduce the risk of drug shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacies in Nova Scotia are limiting patients to 30 days of medication, instead of 60 or 90 days. Already, pharmacists are seeing a surge in requests for refills.

Patients now limited to 30-day prescription refills instead of 60 or 90 days

Pharmacies in Nova Scotia are busier than ever because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images)

In a move to reduce the risk of drug shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacies in Nova Scotia are limiting patients to 30 days of medication, instead of 60 or 90 days. Already, pharmacists are seeing a surge in requests for refills.

Beverley Zwicker, CEO and registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, said the move was not taken lightly.

"There was a real risk of drug shortages," she said. "We identified that we need to take action to support pharmacies in being stewards of the drug supply."

Another issue this creates is having people enter pharmacies more frequently for their medications at a time when drug stores are busier than ever and social distancing has never been more critical.

As of Friday, March 20, there are five confirmed and 10 presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

The pharmacy regulator is working on a COVID-19 strategy to reduce the number of sick patients in pharmacies by having customers call ahead to pick up their medications and only going there to pick them up, as well as ramping up delivery services. Patients with coronavirus symptoms should stay out of stores and make other arrangements.

Beverley Zwicker, CEO and registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, said the pharmacy regulator is working on a COVID-19 strategy to reduce the number of sick patients in pharmacies. (Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists)

A downside of the change in prescription policy is that patients without insurance coverage will have to pay a monthly dispensing fee — $12.10 at most pharmacies — instead of once every two or three months.

Tim Olive of Dartmouth, N.S., is 73 and requires prescription medications. He understands the rationale to limit the supply and is aware he'll have to take precautions more frequently to get his medications.

He thinks the additional dispensing fees should be waived.

"It's almost like an unintentional gouge on those using pharmacies," said Olive.

He said he's fortunate to have drug coverage, but he's worried about people who are feeling the financial squeeze during the pandemic.

Zwicker said the college is not considering waiving the additional dispensing fee. She said pharmacists are still providing a service each time they fill an order.

Andrew Buffett, a pharmacist who owns several Guardian pharmacies in Nova Scotia, said he's noticed customers trying to stock up on a surprising item.

"We've had a run on puffers and I think most pharmacies are seeing their puffer supply dwindle," he said.

Nova Scotia pharmacist Andrew Buffett says he's noticed a surge in people trying to get puffers. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

Sold under the brand name Ventolin, it's a medication that's inhaled by people with asthma, severe allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COVID-19 also causes shortness of breath.

Buffett said part of the issue stems from patients who may have older prescriptions and are now asking for refills, regardless of whether they are required. He gave the example of someone who may have had a severe allergy months ago that's improved, but is now back at the drug store buying puffers just in case.

He compared it to stocking up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer. But in this case, the move could hurt people with medical conditions.

"If we had a baby with asthma and I can't provide them a puffer because someone decided they wanted to access more puffers, then for sure, that's not ideal," said Buffett.

To be sure, he said there is no shortage of puffers, but lately, he's been receiving about five puffers in a shipment instead of 30.

To deal with anticipated increases in product demand, Buffett has already quadrupuled his orders for his most commonly filled medications.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.