An updated Pharmacy Law has been drafted and should be submitted to Cabinet within the next two months to be approved for public consultations, according to Health Ministry Chief Officer Jennifer Ahearn.
The new law would replace 40-year-old legislation that, among other things, does not prevent people from using different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for the same drug.
According to a 2017 audit report on Cayman’s healthcare system, there are no legislated regulations for pharmacies in Cayman.
As a result of the loose legislation, “there are no shared information systems to ensure that patients are not receiving multiple prescriptions from different physicians and obtaining drugs from multiple pharmacies,” states the audit report, which notes that all Cayman physicians can prescribe drugs.
Additionally, “we were not able to identify any other policies or guidelines in place to help ensure appropriate quality and safety protocols for prescribing pharmaceuticals,” states the report.
In one instance, the Auditor General’s Office said it found a prescribed drug issued with no information in English on the label.
Ms. Ahearn said in the Public Accounts Committee hearing on Thursday that she also has heard about cases of people not being able to understand prescription instructions because they are not written in English.
“I have anecdotally heard of concerns from consumers regarding, for example, ‘I picked up my prescription, I opened the box, and, first of all, nothing was in English on the box. And the leaflet inside – there was no English on that either,’” she said. “Surely, that needs to be addressed.”
PAC Chairman Ezzard Miller asked Ms. Ahearn how this could be. He said it is his understanding that the current legislation only allows drugs that were approved by regulators in Canada, the U.S. or the U.K. Ms. Ahearn responded that she would have to check with the chief pharmacist on how drugs with non-English instructions are being prescribed here.
Nevertheless, the new Pharmacy Law will fix the above-mentioned legislative lacunas, Ms. Ahearn said. She said that the updated law includes a requirement that prescription drugs imported into Cayman have information in English.
The chief officer also said that the new law requires each pharmacy to have a qualified pharmacist responsible for making sure that patient-safety measures are being followed.
Efforts have been made since at least the early 1990s to update the Pharmacy Law, but none have resulted in new legislation.
In 1991, a new law was drafted after a review was conducted on the pharmacy sector. That law was passed by legislators, but was never enacted and is not in force.
In 2011, a Pharmacy Council subcommittee submitted suggestions for revisions to the law, but those suggestions were not incorporated into the legislation, according to the audit report.
In 2017, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour said in the Legislative Assembly that efforts were being made to update the legislation to “provide for prescription drugs monitoring.”
This is “a matter of particular importance, as there is evidence that suggests the misuse and abuse of prescribed drugs,” Minister Seymour said in his November 2017 speech.
Ms. Ahearn said last October that her ministry was hoping to have the draft law submitted to Cabinet by the end of that year.
According to the National Drug Council’s 2016 survey on student drug use, 2.7 percent of students reported using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons during their lifetime, while 1 percent of them said they are currently using such drugs.
The survey noted that while the percentage of students abusing prescription drugs is small, the drug council has seen a notable increase in the number of users over the years.
According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, the abuse of prescription pain relief in the United States caused 19,354 deaths by overdose in 2016, which is more than double the number of such deaths recorded in 2002. Overall, opioid abuse – including non-prescription drugs such as heroin – caused 72,306 deaths by overdose in 2017, a roughly 3.1-fold increase from 2002, the institute’s statistics show.