Australia restricts OTC sales due to COVID-19

Australia restricts OTC sales due to COVID-19

20 March 2020 - Deborah Wilkes

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has announced sales restrictions on prescription and non-prescription medicines following surges in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The TGA said on 19 March 2020 that it was introducing limits on dispensing and sales of prescription and non-prescription medicines. The regulatory agency said the move would “ensure equitable access to medicines for all Australians”.

Demand for medicines had increased markedly during the first two weeks of March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, explained the TGA. “This resulted in pharmacies and wholesalers reporting numerous product lines out of stock,” said the TGA, adding that “these temporary, local-level out-of-stocks have resulted in challenges for Australian consumers”.

The TGA said pharmaceutical companies did “not anticipate imminent or widespread national-level medicine shortages resulting from the impact of COVID-19 on medicines manufacturing or logistics”.

“However,” added the TGA, “if current levels of demand through excessive purchasing continue, supply interruptions will occur at both the national level while sponsors await scheduled deliveries of new stock from international manufacturing sites and at the local level as a result of stockpiling by pharmacy customers."

The TGA said the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia – in consultation with the Department of Health – were requiring community pharmacists to enforce new limits on dispensing and sales of prescription and non-prescription medicines. The measure is also supported by the National Pharmaceutical Services Association, representing pharmaceutical wholesalers.

Measures affecting non-prescription medicines

Pharmacists will be “required” to limit sales of certain non-prescription medicines to a maximum of one unit per purchase.

The move affects non-prescription medicines for which interrupted supply could result in serious health consequences. These include adrenaline autoinjectors, chloramphenicol eye drops/ointment, glyceryl trinitrate, levonorgestrel, and salbutamol inhalers.

It also affects non-prescription medicines for which there may increased demand, including antihistamines, aspirin, cough suppressants, decongestants, expectorants, ibuprofen, mucolytics, paracetamol and throat preparations.

Salbutamol and paracetamol

The TGA said two non-prescription medicines for which there had been particularly high demand – salbutamol inhalers and paracetamol paediatric formulations – would be subject to new controls on supply.

Discussing salbutamol inhalers provided on a non-prescription basis, the TGA said pharmacists would be required to “confirm that supply is appropriate by confirmation of the patient's diagnosis, label the product indicating to whom it has been dispensed and record the supply”.

For paracetamol paediatric formulations, pharmacists will be required to place them behind the counter to assist in allocating supply equitably.

The TGA said only one salbutamol inhaler or paracetamol paediatric product should be supplied per customer.

In addition, pharmacists will be “strongly encouraged” to limit dispensing and sales of all other medicines to one months' supply or one unit.

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