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Alberta pharmacists see high demand, but no shortage of prescriptions amid coronavirus concerns

Calgary pharmacist sees increase in patients stockpiling medications admid COVID-19 fears
WATCH: A Calgary pharmacist is asking patients to avoid stockpiling medications during the COVID-19 pandemic. Blake Lough reports.

Toilet paper and non-perishables aren’t the only things people are stocking up on as concerns and restrictions increase around the coronavirus pandemic. Prescriptions are also in higher-than-normal demand at some pharmacies.

Pharmacists are now urging patients to avoid stockpiling drugs, as COVID-19 puts a strain on the medication supply chain.

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According to Randy Howden, a pharmacist and owner of The Medicine Shoppe Crowfoot in Calgary, Monday and Tuesday saw “double or more” prescriptions than normal filled at the store.

“We’re hearing a mixture,” Howden said. “Some people are very understanding and are just wanting to make sure they don’t run low on their medication.

“And then there’s the other extreme side where some people are trying to stockpile medication and want early fills and large quantities filled.”

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Howden said he’s had customers ask for a six-month supply of their medications.

In light of that increased demand, he’s hoping to get the message out that the distribution system is strong in Canada, and “we’re not expecting any drug shortages.”

“We’re not wanting people to run out of medications,” he said.

“We want them to be proactive and not be calling the pharmacies last minute, but there’s no reason to stockpile medication and stock up more than what we’d normally have at home.”

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While Howden doesn’t anticipate any major shortages, there are new limitations to how pharmacies order medications due to the spike in demand.

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Mass ordering ‘unnecessary’

The Medicine Shoppe’s distributor, McKesson Canada, has placed limitations on certain orders in an effort to prevent patients and retailers from hoarding.

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In an emailed statement to Global News, McKesson Canada said it’s working with its partners to “ensure appropriate access to healthcare essentials and to safeguard Canada’s pharmaceutical supply chain.”

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Spokesperson Andrew Forgione said the company is promoting “responsible ordering and distribution” of products, adding that in recent days it’s made changes including “temporarily adjusting daily customer ordering for some medications and certain daily essentials.”

“It is unnecessary for Canadian consumers or retailers to mass order products,” Forgione said.

“We encourage patients and customers to refill maintenance medications and seek healthcare essentials in a responsible manner to avoid unnecessary strain on the system.”

Forgione said McKesson is working to meet increased demand for certain products people are looking for amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but did not say what those items were.

“The demand may cause temporary variability for certain products at some store locations,” Forgione said, adding they’re getting items to customers as fast as possible.

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One medication Howden said is currently backlogged is Ventolin, the popular asthma inhaler.

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He said in some cases, they’re having to balance what customers are asking for.

“We’re giving patients some medication and then when we get medication in later in the week, we’ll give them the remainder. But in many cases we’ve got totally fine stock levels,” Howden said.

Margaret Wing, CEO of the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association, said the restrictions implemented by the wholesalers are nothing new — pharmacists are constantly adapting to drug shortages, drug recalls and discontinuations.

But she said COVID-19 has added to the complexity and pharmacists are dealing with “the impacts of a very strained drug supply chain.”

Wing said the association has been working closely with Alberta Health and is expecting an announcement soon about how the government plans to help both patients and pharmacies during the coronavirus pandemic.

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She’s specifically looking for changes that would give pharmacists across the country the power to refuse orders deemed unreasonable or too large.

“We’re asking Alberta Health to work alongside us to put additional limitations on how much medication can be dispensed at any point in time so that it lessens the chance of a stockpiling situation happening,” Wing said.

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“What we’re working to try and coordinate is that every government would look to implement something like a 30-day limit on medications, simply to help us get over this current crisis,” she said.

“Pharmacists themselves are having a hard time getting medications, so in turn we want to make sure that that medication is allocated to the patients as they need it.”

As Howden works to resupply his pharmacy, he hopes even without government intervention, people will do the right thing and take only what is necessary.

“Everybody has a role to play — government, our association, pharmacy and also our patients — to make sure that patients aren’t stockpiling more than what they’re going to need.”