‘Is this real?’: Shocked pharmacists remind people to keep calm in the wake of increasing COVID-19 panic, and warn against “stocking up” on prescription medicines
Australians fearful that a COVID-19 outbreak might lead to medicine shortages have been warned that panic buying of medicines is unnecessary and may have unintended consequences.
Pharmacists have professional and legal responsibilities to ensure appropriate and safe supply of prescription medicines, said Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis.
Dispensing multiple repeats without good reason was inadvisable and outside the guidelines published by the Pharmacy Board of Australia.
In some jurisdictions, it is a legal requirement to check with the prescribing doctor before issuing multiple repeat supplies of medicine at the same time, he added.
“The Pharmacy Guild is not aware of any medicine which is currently unavailable or in short supply in Australia specifically because of COVID-19,” Mr Tambassis said.
“Medication shortages and out of stocks have been part of the pharmacy landscape for the last couple of years threatening continuity of supply for patients and requiring numerous brand substitution changes for some patients, but these issues pre-dated and are entirely unrelated to coronavirus.
“Paradoxically, if panic buying does take hold for medicines and other products, shortages may well arise – and we certainly hope this can be avoided,” he said.
There is currently no recommendation from the Chief Medical Officer, Departments of Health or any other public health authority of the need for patients to stockpile, said the Guild.
Despite this, there have been numerous anecdotal reports of consumers trying to “stock-up” on prescription medicines, and wholesalers have reported higher-than-usual demand for prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
“People are really freaking out,” Sydney pharmacy owner Caroline Diamantis told AJP.
“We’re trying to keep people calm, we’re trying to encourage good hygiene and tell people the facts – that they don’t need to take all their repeats and medicines aren’t going to run out unless people start taking all their prescriptions,” says Ms Diamantis.
“We’re copping the brunt of people’s stress … everyone’s just on high tension. I’ve had a couple of people, when you don’t have stock or run out, saying ‘What do you mean I can’t have it? What do you mean I can’t have six?’
“That’s put a lot of pressure on us as pharmacists. You’re constantly explaining yourself and saying that you want there to be enough for everyone. We’re very exhausted.
“We’ve put rationing on a lot of things. I’ve obviously been rationing toilet paper which went out the door in half an hour,” she says.
“I had a woman come in and say, I want 300 face masks and I’ll pay double the price. And I told her no.
“Another woman came in saying she wanted to get all her repeats, but I told her I don’t think she should get all her repeats. If everybody did that, that would actually cause shortages. We’re trying to keep people calm.”
Ms Diamantis said she has never seen a panic quite like it.
“Is this real? Am I really living this? I’m shocked. It’s never been this bad in my memory of SARS, bird flu… nothing’s been as bad as this. It’s quite bizarre,” she says.