I was shocked this week as the news about Fort McMurray came across the radio on my drive home from work. Fort McMurray is under a mandatory evacuation order.
Many of the evacuees have chronic health problems and will have difficulty accessing the medications they require to stay healthy. Here are six ways pharmacists can help people displaced by the fire.
1. Triage and Referral
If you have a medical concern you can visit any community pharmacy and speak with the pharmacist. For example, you may have a medical issue that can be managed without seeing a physician. Pharmacists can quickly assess your conditions and determine whether you should see a physician at the nearest health center, or if you can self-manage on your own.
2. Prescribe Medications
All pharmacists can prescribe most medications to ensure you don’t run out of your essential medicines. This is often called a “continuity of care” prescription. To request a continuity of care prescription from a pharmacist, you’ll ideally provide proof that you are taking a chronic medication, which could include a medication vial, a prescription label, or a prescription receipt.
If you don’t have any evidence available, which may be the case given the rapidity of the evacuation, you can still obtain a prescription. Helpful information to have available includes the name of the medication, what you are using it for, the dose, and how often you take the medication. Pharmacists can also prescribe in emergency situations when it is not possible to see another prescriber.
N.B. Pharmacists are prohibited from prescribing narcotics and controlled substances. Patients will need to see a physician or an authorized nurse practitioner to receive a prescription for these medications.
3. Responding to Medication Questions
If you have access to a pharmacist you can always ask them any medication related questions.
Some common questions that might come up during the next few days include what should I do if I’ve run out of my medication(s)? What should I do if I’ve missed a dose of my medication? What if I don’t have the same type of food to eat? Could that affect my medication(s)?
If you cannot speak with a pharmacist in-person, call the Provincial Poison and Drug Information Service at 1-800-332-1414 where a nurse or pharmacist specialist can provide you with personalized medication information. For more general health questions, including mental health, call Health Link at 811.
4. Substitute Medications
There is the possibility that the medication distribution system may be temporarily interrupted leading to medication shortages. In this case, pharmacists will need to use their medication knowledge and help switch patients to therapeutically equivalent medicines.
5. Transfer Your Prescription Records
There are 15 licenced community pharmacies located in Fort McMurray and it is unclear when they will re-open. Once the pharmacies are open, you can always request that your new pharmacist transfer in your prescriptions from your pharmacist in Fort McMurray. In the interim, see point 2 for guidance on requesting a continuity of care prescription from another pharmacist.
6. Listen to Evacuees
Pharmacists are trusted professionals and tend to be good listeners. Evacuees will need accessible health care professionals to listen to their concerns medical and otherwise. Evacuees will be under a lot of stress and pharmacists can take the time to listen to their concerns and facilitate professional assistance from counselors and mental health professionals.
Pharmacists in Alberta can step-up and use their full set of knowledge, skills, and creativity to help the people of Fort McMurray during this emergency, and relieve demands on the health care system. My thoughts our with all the people of Fort McMurray at this difficult and stressful time.