VANCOUVER -- With borders closed and the global supply chain under pressure, many B.C. pharmacists are limiting prescription refills to a 30-day supply. And that means some consumers are paying three times the dispensing fee - something those on fixed incomes are finding tough to swallow.

Pharmacies are seeing an influx of business as customers demand up to a year’s supply of medications, and border closures in China and India mean supplies aren’t coming in as fast as needed to keep up with that demand. 

Chris Chiew, the general manager of pharmacy at London Drugs, said in recent weeks, his pharmacies have received three to five times the number of prescription requests. Most prescriptions are usually dispensed in 90-day supplies, so customers only have to pick them up every three months. 

"We are going to run out of supplies because people are getting much more than they usually do," he said. "We made a decision to actually limit it to a 30-day supply so everyone could have their fair share." 

Florence Tewogbade takes hydroxychloroquine to control her lupus, but she’s worried about a run on the drug, which was recently said to be a potential treatment for COVID-19 - a claim that hasn’t yet been proven in clinical trials. 

“Other people are hoarding it for reasons that may not be valid reasons," she said. "My fear is that I'll be without my medication and I'll get sick."

Other provinces have mandated that pharmacies only provide a month’s worth of medication. But that hasn’t happened yet in B.C., leaving pharmacies to decide whether or not to limit dispensing themselves. 

Chiew said concerns about the supply chain, particularly border closures in Indian and China where many drugs and ingredients come from, led to the decision.

In a statement to CTV News Vancouver, the College of Pharmacists of BC said pharmacies are able to do this to minimize potential shortages and strains in the drug supply chain. 

“Many patients are being provided with a 30-day supply to help ensure that the greatest number of patients will have access to necessary medication in the short term, especially during these unprecedented times,” it said, adding pharmacists are encouraged to exercise their own judgement in certain situations. “For patients who are immunocompromised or who would have increased risks of more severe outcomes from COVID-19, a longer supply may be appropriate to enable them to safely self-isolate at home.”

Since the change, customers have started to notice the uptick in their bill, and Bruce Cran with the Consumers’ Association of Canada said he’s had numerous complaints about the extra fees.

“My phone’s been ringing hot with people with problems,” he said. “People are also, the doctors are telling me, compensating by taking a pill every second day. That’s not acceptable at all.”

Grace Gould is a senior living on a pension, and with her four prescriptions will be paying a lot more out of pocket. Normally, she pays $40 for a three month supply. Now, with a 30-day limit, she’ll have to pay $120 for the same amount. 

“I don’t have a huge pension and that’s my spending money,” Gould explained. 

Not only that, it could also mean she has to make more visits to the pharmacy. 

“If your prescriptions aren’t on a regular (schedule), one month they all come at the same time - like mine, one of mine is actually offset,” she said. “So I could end up going twice this month and having to go twice again the next month when the other one comes due again.” 

London Drugs’ Chiew said the fees are necessary. Pharmacists are struggling to keep up with the increased demand, and dispensing fees pay for the work. And limiting to a 30-day supply is adding even more labour - so the fees won’t be waived. 

But Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said on Friday that she is in talks to lower or cover those additional costs for some consumers. 

“We’re addressing that for seniors, for people who are on Fair Pharmacare, so that it will be taken care of for most people.”

However there are a lot of people, like Gould, who won’t be covered.

“There’s a lot of seniors out there, they’re not covered by any plans and the government, their salaries are a little bit above that and right now’s not the time to hit them with more money,” she said.

The Consumers’ Association of Canada hopes that the government will listen and come up with a plan to help offset the cost for those who aren’t covered.