CPhA: Pharmacists should be on front lines of medical marijuana

BY David Salazar
OTTAWA, Canada — The Canadian Pharmacists Association on Thursday  called for pharmacists be on the front lines of patient management and dispensing of medical marijuana. 
“Pharmacists are medication experts and play a critical role in the management and monitoring of medication to ensure safe and optimal use,” CPhA professional affairs director Phil Emberley said. “And it is patient safety that is ultimately at the heart of CPhA's decision to update its position on the role of pharmacists in the management and dispensing of medical marijuana.”
Thursday’s announcement marks a reversal for the organization, which opposed pharmacist distribution over lack of evidence of efficacy and concern over potential robberies of marijuana-dispensing pharmacies in 2013 — the year Health Canada included pharmacy distribution in an early draft of its Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations. 
“While the distribution process would be regulated, there remains the concern with pharmacists dispensing a product that does not have adequate safety and effectiveness evidence,” the organization said in 2013. “In addition, the potential security risks to pharmacies due to robberies would need to be considered.”
CPhA said its evolution on the issue was informed by three factors: concern from members over the impact lack of proper clinical oversight for using medical marijuana could have on patients; the findings of an independent report from KPMG that found pharmacist dispensation and management was the best option for patient safety and access; and the results of a CPhA-commissioned February survey in which 73% of respondents mostly or strongly agreed that medical marijuana should be treated like other medicines and only be available through a pharmacy. The same survey saw 77% of respondents strongly or mostly agreeing with the statement that patient safety and oversight if medical marijuana was available only through pharmacies. 
“Pharmacists are the safest and best equipped to provide clinical advice to patients and provide appropriate oversight,” Emberley said. “Pharmacist involvement in dispensing of medical marijuana would help identify potential problems such as drug interactions, alternative therapies, contraindications and potential addictive behavior, and provide the opportunity for patient counseling on appropriate use. As well, pharmacists have an existing infrastructure that is already in place to handle controlled substances and have a secure supply chain to limit diversion.”
CPhA’s announcement comes little more than a month after reports said Candian pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart was exploring the potential of dispensing medical marijuana. At the time,the company’s communications and corporate affairs manager noted that t “dispensing medical marijuana through pharmacy, like other medications, is the safest option.”

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