It appears that limits for medications during the COVID-19 pandemic safeguarded supplies from panic buying. 

Experts have analysed Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme date-of-supply data to predict expected dispensing during January ‒ June 2020, and compared it with actual dispensing rates during this period.

They found that the number of prescriptions dispensed during March 2020 was significantly higher than predicted (increasing by 18.5 per cent), but significantly lower in April and May.

The increased dispensing of prescription medications in March 2020 was consistent with the general panic buying reported early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, in response to the March increase, the Australian government introduced dispensing limits of one month’s supply of medications if shortages would have serious health consequences. 

That was balanced with services to assist susceptible patients to isolate themselves, including the COVID-19 home medicines service which funded home delivery of prescription medications by community pharmacies and Australia Post; as well as funding for telehealth to facilitate remote prescribing.

“Our findings indicate that medication supply can be safeguarded from panic dispensing by a range of regulatory policies combined with medication services for vulnerable people,” the researchers concluded.

“This may be particularly important for ensuring equitable access to medications for treating COVID-19. The risk of further COVID-19 outbreaks underscores the importance of maintaining these policies and services.”

The study has been published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).