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Local pharmacist explains changes to policies to protect drug supply

'The policies to avoid drug shortages needed to be implemented swiftly, and are intended to be a temporary, yet important, measure,' says pharmacist

The current COVID-19 pandemic has changed all our day-to-day lives. Pharmacists on the frontlines continue to provide Canadians with essential services of medications and clinical expertise.

It has become increasingly apparent that the drug supply needs to be managed very carefully to prevent nationwide drug shortages. While patients currently do not need to be concerned about access to their medications, pharmacists will now only be able to fill a 30-day supply, as per the guidelines set by the Ministry of Health. This is to ensure that all patients across the country will have access to life-saving medications.


In most circumstances, while your pharmacist can guarantee that they will have access to ordering necessary medications, pharmaceutical suppliers may have placed restrictions on the amount of medications your pharmacist can receive. This is known as allocated medications.

In the past, your pharmacist may have been able to order and receive 12 bottles of a drug. Now, they may only receive a shipment of two bottles. In this situation, if one patient receives a three-month supply of their medication, it could mean that another patient may not receive any at all.

The 30-day supply limit directive is being implemented in pharmacies across Canada to ensure that life-saving medications such as inhalers, blood pressure medications and insulin are equally available to all patients.


Your pharmacist is aware that the 30-day limit means that some patients are paying more frequent dispensing fees. When some patients take multiple medications, the costs can add up very quickly. Pharmacists understand the financial burden can be difficult for many patients.

The policies to avoid drug shortages needed to be implemented swiftly, and are intended to be a temporary, yet important, measure. The Canadian Pharmacist Association has been working closely with provincial governments and insurers to address the added costs to patients. Governments are working with manufacturers to address ongoing drug shortages and federal legislation is being adjusted in response to the pandemic.

The pharmacist’s dispensing fee is a professional service fee: each prescription is verified to ensure correct dose, side effects are monitored and managed, and that there is enough inventory for all patients. As pharmacies provide an essential service, they must remain open, so the dispensing fees help to cover operating costs such as increased staffing, cleaning supplies and protective barrier installations.

Counting pills is only a small portion of what your pharmacist actually does. They can provide medical advice for treating minor illness, identify drug interactions, administer vaccinations, adjust the dose and formulation of medications, and even help you quit smoking.

They can extend and adapt prescriptions for chronic conditions. Now more than ever, your pharmacist is working very closely with local physicians and nurse practitioners to ensure your healthcare needs are met.


While there is currently no indication of a global drug shortage, all Canadians can help to protect the nation’s drug supply. Please understand that the 30-day limit has been imposed to ensure that essential medications are available to vulnerable patients who need them.

Only call your pharmacist to refill your prescription when you have a 7 days supply left. Early refills and stockpiling medications can lead to drug shortages. To limit trips to the pharmacy, you can arrange to have a friend, family member or neighbour pick up your prescriptions. You can call your pharmacy to have your medications delivered or brought out to your car for a curbside pick-up.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers alike. We must all work together to prevent drug shortages and protect the safety and health of those living with chronic diseases who require essential medications.


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