Safeguarding medication supply proved a success during Covid-19

When the Covid-19 pandemic first took hold in 2020, one of the first issues to crop up was that of panic buying.

Panic buying was not only seen in the toilet paper aisles of supermarkets but also in pharmacies with many people panic buying the medications they might need out of fear that supply of these products may run dry.

As a result, government-imposed dispensing limits on medications during the Covid-19 pandemic were introduced in a bid to offset panic buying and to safeguard medication supply.

But just how successful have these policies and limits been?

A recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), by Dr Mustafa Mian, a physician at Alfred Health in Melbourne, and colleagues, found that the number of prescriptions dispensed during March 2020 was significantly higher than predicted as a result of panic buying, but was then much lower in April and May when the government imposed dispensing limits and services to aid people who were isolating and needed medications.

“The number of prescriptions dispensed during March 2020, was significantly higher than predicted (4.80 million more prescriptions, +18.5%), but significantly lower in April (2.28 million fewer prescriptions, -9,2%) and May (2.08 million fewer prescriptions, -8.1%) – there was no significant difference in June 2020 (988,778 fewer prescriptions, -3.8%),” the researchers found.

Dr Mian and colleagues wrote that the increased dispensing of prescription medications in March 2020, was consistent with the general panic buying reported early in the Covid-19 pandemic.

In response to the March increase, the Australian government introduced dispensing limits of one month’s supply of medications if shortages would have serious health consequences.

That was balanced with services to assist susceptible patients to isolate themselves, including the Covid-19 home medicines service, which funded home delivery of prescription medications by community pharmacies and Australia Post – as well as funding for telehealth to facilitate remote prescribing.

“Our findings indicate that medication supply can be safeguarded from panic dispensing by a range of regulatory policies combined with medication services for vulnerable people,” Dr Mian and colleagues conclude.

“This may be particularly important for ensuring equitable access to medications for treating Covid-19. The risk of further Covid-19 outbreaks underscores the importance of maintaining these policies and services.”

For more information and to read the study, visit: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.5694/mja2.51029

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