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COVID-19 could have consequences for access to MAiD drugs: doctor

Last Updated Jun 14, 2020 at 10:29 pm PDT

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Drugs used for MAiD are also used when intubating patients, and demand is up

The potential for a shortage of these drugs prompted a policy change for B.C. Pharmacists

NEWS 1130 (VANCOUVER) — Some drugs used for treating COVID-19 patients are used for Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) and B.C. pharmacists have made a policy change to prevent a shortage.

Almost 7,000 Canadians have received medical help to end their lives since Canada legalized assisted dying three years ago, according to Health Canada.

“The drugs that we use for MAiD, they come from a variety of families of medications, and they can be used for other things,” said Dr. Stephanie Green, President of the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers.

MAiD drugs are also used to help to intubate a patient, one of the key life-saving measures for someone who might be suffering with a severe case of COVID-19.

It was this that prompted the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia to make changes to its policies, something the B.C. government approved in May through an Order In Council.

“Traditionally, in British Columbia, when a MAiD procedure is done, the physician takes with them two complete kits of medication to the procedure if there’s ever a problem,” notes Dr. Green.

Normally, those unused kits would be returned to the pharmacy, where they would subsequently be destroyed due to tampering or storage concerns.

“Now that these medications are in short supply, and maybe needed to be used in other ways, for palliative care and critical care in our hospitals, we urged the College of Pharmacists to consider not destroying those medications when they’re returned,” adds Dr. Green.

While she says there have not been any issues that she knows of in securing MAiD drugs for assisted dying in British Columbia thus far, she says that’s not the case elsewhere.

“I do have colleagues across the country that have had a little bit more trouble with this. I am aware of cases in Ontario where it was a little bit more difficult.”

However, public health officials are suggesting there will most likely be a resurgence, or “second wave” of COVID-19 at some point this year.

“I think it’s still too soon to know exactly what medications we will need, and in what amounts. It’s a little unclear how this pandemic will play out,” says Dr. Green.

She notes that most of the medications used in MAiD procedures are sourced outside of Canada, including from the United States, which continues to struggle with COVID-19.