Restrictions on medicine supply as a result of COVID-19 panic buying

19 Mar 2020

A number of restrictions on medication supply was announced on 19 March 2020 as a result of patient stockpiling and demand during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Pharmacists will be required to:
    • limit particular prescription products to one month’s supply (at the prescribed dose),
    • limit a maximum of one unit per purchase for particular over the counter medications,
  • Pharmacists are strongly encouraged to limit dispensing and sales of all other medicines to one month’s supply or one unit,
  • Salbutamol inhalers will require confirmation of the patient’s diagnosis, the supply recorded and the inhaler labelled with the patient’s name,
  • Paracetamol paediatric formulations will be placed behind the counter to assist in equitable supply.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) at this time has advised that stockpiling medicines is not necessary. It is essential that the public does not stockpile medicines to ensure there is equitable access for everyone. If individuals stockpile medicine, there is a risk that the unused medication will become out of date and therefore cannot be used.

Doctors have an important role to ensure their patients understand the risks of stockpiling and its impacts on the community. It is likely that doctors will receive requests from their patients to be able to receive higher quantities of medications.

Regulation 49 (previously regulation 24) prescriptions allow a PBS medication’s original and repeat to be supplied at the same time (i.e. higher quantities of medication are received by the patient in one transaction).

Regulation 49 prescriptions can only be prescribed in certain circumstances, as written by the Department of Health:

  • the maximum PBS quantity is insufficient for the patient's treatment; AND
  • the patient has a chronic illness or lives in a remote area where access to PBS supplies is limited; AND
  • the patient would suffer great hardship trying to get the pharmaceutical benefit on separate occasions.

The AMA is calling on all members and the wider profession to ensure that only those patients who are eligible and meet the criteria are provided with Regulation 49 prescriptions. The AMA is a member of the TGA’s Medicines Shortages Working Group and will continue to monitor the situation and manage issues as they arise.

The AMA will continue to work with the Department of Health, the TGA, pharmacy and pharmaceutical bodies on the issues around medication prescribing and dispensing during this difficult time and provide updates whenever is necessary.

More information on Regulation 49 prescriptions is available at the Department of Health PBS website – Prescribing Medicines – Information for PBS Prescribers, here.