Should cancer drugs be given out by doctors, not pharmacists?

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Should doctors be allowed to bypass pharmacists and give their cancer patients treatment without a prescription? A proposed bill in the Utah Senate says they should, and that has pharmacists concerned.

Typically when treating cancer an oncologist gives a patient a prescription for cancer fighting drugs to fill at a local pharmacy. But because cancer drugs aren't always readily available, some have to wait. That inconvenience prompted Senator Curt Bramble to draft a bill.

Bramble said Utah is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't allow doctors to give cancer patients the drugs directly, and that the bill would make it more convenient for people who, like his father, are unable to travel to a pharmacy either because of distance or physical inability.

SB161 would essentially keep pharmacists out of the loop when it comes to dispensing drugs for cancer patients.

SB161 would essentially keep pharmacists out of the loop when it comes to dispensing drugs for cancer patients. The bill had an initial hearing in a senate committee Tuesday, and could move to the full senate for a debate. While Bramble said it is about convenience for cancer patients, others say the bill could have dangerous ramifications.

Healthcare has checks and balances, and pharmacist play an important role to make sure medications that go to patients are ultimately the correct medications," said pharmacist Jeff Gatzemeier. What concerns him about this bill, is the removal of a pharmacist's experience and training, which help keep patients safe.

Having a second set of eyes on that medication," Gatzemeier said, "especially chemotherapeutic drugs that are the most toxic drug we have, it's important to have a pharmacist have a second look at that to make sure the medication is correct before it goes out."

He said that if cancer drugs aren't readily available, the pharmacy can usually get them by the next day. But Sen. Bramble isn't convinced that the role of the pharmacist is necessary for toxic cancer drugs.

"If there were a problem with patient safety, that would manifest itself in the 49 other states that allow other doctors to dispense this drug directly to the patient," he said.


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