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A proposed amendment to the pharmacy act would allow pharmacists to extend a patient's prescription for up to one month. - Herb Mathisen/NNSL photo

Power to the pharmacists

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 13, 2008

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The president of the NWT Pharmacy Association is happy to hear a bill to amend the Pharmacy Act has received second reading.

"It's a good step," said Daryl Dolynny of the amendment, which will give pharmacists some prescriptive authority in continuing a limited quantity of a patient's medication refill without a doctor's prescription.

"We've been waiting for this for quite some time."

A clause was added in the act that states: "a pharmacist may, for the continued care of a patient, prescribe a limited quantity of a drug ... if a practitioner had previously issued a prescription for the drug to the patient."

Sandy Lee, minister of Health and Social Services, said the act will allow chronic care patients - or people with continuing pharmaceutical needs, like asthmatics or people with high blood pressure - to receive prescription refills for up to one month of use if their medication runs out.

There are strict requirements though, said Lee. Patients must be able to present an existing or old prescription, the pharmacist has to advise the patient's doctor within 24 hours of renewal, and the patient must show they are not able to see a doctor to renew their prescription.

"It will be very helpful," said Lee. "It's an accepted practice in most jurisdictions."

Several provinces in Canada have implemented prescriptive authority legislation to allow pharmacists to prescribe refills.

Dolynny pointed to the problem of having people coming into a pharmacy on a Friday night with their inhaler or diabetic medicines running out, and the pharmacy having to turn them away, because they did not have a prescription. The patient would have to go and wait in emergency for six to eight hours to get a prescription, said Dolynny, which would also extend wait times for other people seeking medical treatment.

"This continued care is not meant as a means for people to be sloppy," said Dolynny, who confirmed there were some very strict rules behind it.

"People will still have to take ownership of their health and be cognizant of their prescription levels."

When the Pharmacy Act first went through, it was archaic in the way it dealt with this issue, said Dolynny.

Lee called it an oversight.

"It kind of got missed," she said.

Dolynny said the NWT Medical Association (NWTMA) and the Registered Nurses Association of the NWT wanted to get more history behind prescriptive authority, before it was written into the NWT Pharmacy Act.

These organizations sat down with the government in drafting the amendment.

"The NWTMA supports this because it can be difficult for a patient to see a physician to have a prescription amended or renewed," said NWTMA president Cindy Orlaw. "It's best for patients."

Orlaw said with the shortage of physicians in the NWT, the amendment would lessen the harm on patients.

"We are always in communication with our pharmacy colleagues," said Orlaw.

The amendment is now before the standing committee on social programs.

When asked if the amended act could receive third reading this session, Lee did not know.

"It's possible, but it's totally up to the committee."

Dolynny believes this is just an interim step in moving toward even more prescriptive authority.

"I stress this is just the beginning," he said. "It's not a matter of if, but when."