Don't stockpile meds in response to coronavirus, pharmacists warn

Pharmacists are warning against stockpiling medication as Canadians beef up their home supplies for coronavirus outbreak contingency plans.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) said Wednesday that it does not recommend amassing large quantities of prescription medication out of fear of local outbreaks of COVID-19.

“This is completely unnecessary and could trigger drug shortages,” the non-profit said in a news release. “Unnecessary stockpiling of medication can create unintended shortages and puts other patients’ health at risk.”

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The A spokesperson for the group told CTVNews.ca there’s a “high likelihood” there will be drug shortages related to COVID-19, though there haven’t been any yet.

The novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has infected more than 92,800 people around the world, including 33 in Canada, and killed at least 3,200, mostly in China.

“What we don’t want to see happen is people rushing to the pharmacy looking for a three- or four-month supply,” said Barry Power.

While many insurance plans only allow for a 30- or 90-day maximum supply -- and most pharmacies wouldn’t even be able to supply that amount, he added -- the Wednesday warning was issued in part to prevent pharmacies from being bombarded with requests. The CPhA is “quite concerned” that the widespread suggestion that Canadians begin stockpiling will “fuel the panic” around the virus, he added.

The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday of shortages in medical equipment that could hamper the response to the outbreak. "Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other front line health care workers dangerously ill-equipped," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The WHO has shipped nearly half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 27 countries, but supplies are rapidly depleting.”

The Wednesday warning from the CPhA was in part a response to recent statements from officials suggesting Canadians build an emergency stash of necessary items, said Power. Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said last week that Canadians should stockpile food and meds in case of an at-home quarantine.

“It’s completely reasonable for people to check their first aid kit,” said Power, noting that over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and antihistamines are good to have on hand.

“Right now, the likelihood of many people being quarantined is fairly low. The infection seems to be very well controlled, largely thanks to our experience with SARS,” he added.

In its Wednesday statement, the CPhA explained further that pharmacists manage their drug supply carefully when there are disruptions in supply to ensure that their patients can receive the appropriate amount of medication needed.

“CPhA is committed to working with Health Canada and PHAC to ensure that pharmacists across Canada have the tools and resources to support their patients as we continue to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the statement said.