Pa. considers limiting transferring prescriptions

January 30, 2011 12:32:05 PM PST
Pennsylvania officials are watching efforts by Ohio officials to limit the number of times consumers can transfer prescriptions between pharmacies - often as they seek discounts or deals - to see whether the commonwealth might try a similar plan.

Since the beginning of the year, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has barred prescriptions from being transferred to a different pharmacy more than once a year, with few exceptions. The change comes as retailers with pharmacies have competed to fill prescriptions in the hope of drawing shoppers to their stores.

"We've had so many prescriptions being transferred, and every time a transfer occurs, there is an increased chance of error because they're all done verbally," said Ernest E. Boyd, executive director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association.

Such transactions can turn into a game of "post office," in which important details such as dosage or how often pills are taken, can be distorted or left out at each transfer, with possibly disastrous consequences. Errors can also be made over the phone be cause many drugs have names that sound similar, he said.

"Even though we haven't had a major incident, we just don't want to wait until that happens," said Tim Benedict, the board's assistant director.

The Ohio board acted after hearing reports from around the state of such errors cropping up, Benedict said.

"It wasn't one or two pharmacists complaining. We were hearing it constantly, from everybody," he said.

Pennsylvania State Board of Pharmacy chairman Richard Smiga mentioned Ohio's action at the Jan. 18 meeting of his board, according to spokesman Kevin Murphy.

"He encouraged the board to consider a regulation in Pennsylvania that would similarly restrict the number of times that a prescription could be transferred," Murphy told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He said the consideration is only preliminary, and the board's attorney was asked to look into whether the body had the authority to propose such a change.

Transfer limits already exist for drugs such as opiates, but Ohio is setting limits for nonaddictive medications as well.

"With so many marketing campaigns out there, people are jumping their prescriptions all around," said Pat Epple, executive director of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association.

Beyond potential mix-ups, there is also the possibility that people could fill prescriptions at both places, Epple said.

"It's not good if people end up taking twice as much as they should," she said.

CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis said the drugstore chain is not currently offering transfer coupons, so he doubts customers will see much impact.

"Our position is that people should get all their prescriptions from the same pharmacist, who knows all the medications they're taking, to avoid potentially harmful drug interactions," DeAngelis said.

Dick Roberts, spokesman for Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, said officials are watching to see how the changes will play out in Ohio and does not know the potential impact.

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com


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