Susan Oliver was having a frustrating day. She was searching for a particular medication, but couldn't find it in stock at her regular pharmacy. She decided to try filling her prescription at Westport Apothecary but said she was shocked when the pharmacy wouldn't fill it.

The pharmacy, for its part, cites state law affirming it can deny service for any reason — the reason in this case apparently being a growing drug shortage.

"My doctor called in a prescription which they said they had but would not fill because I am no longer a regular customer and they save their medication for their customers," Oliver said. "What?" I am trying to be a customer?"

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This is apparently an issue for many pharmacies nationwide. The American Medical Association agrees that it's a real problem. In fact, "the University of Utah Drug Information Service, which has tracked drug shortages since 2001, reports that active drug shortages in 2023 are at their highest level in a decade," according to the AMA.

When pharmacies are only allotted a finite amount of a particular medication, they are forced to figure out how to ration it. Sometimes that means only giving it out to their regular customers.

Ozempic is an example. It's an injectable medication that was mainly used for patients living with Type 2 diabetes. However, it has recently become a hot drug for the off-label use of weight loss. With the rapid growth of the number of people using Ozempic for weight loss, it has made it more difficult for diabetics, who need the drug to live, to find it.

In her frustration, Oliver wondered if it was even legal for a pharmacy to deny someone medication because they were not a regular customer.

It's a good question. We checked on Massachusetts General Laws which address a pharmacy's right to deny a prescription for someone.

A pharmacist shall not be liable for refusing to fill a prescription for which a verification cannot be obtained.


However, that's really not in play here. The validity of the prescription is not in question.

Westport Apothecary pointed to Massachusetts General Law when it replied to Oliver's public social media complaint.

"We’d be more than happy to provide you with a copy of MGL that states a pharmacist can deny a prescription regardless of reason at any time," the pharmacy responded. "However, you are correct, we did give you a reason, which was in the interest of preserving medications for our longstanding customers (ones that have visited us more recently than 10 years ago, not just when looking for a specific medication and then going back to our corporate friends)."

Westport Apothecary's general manager was not immediately available for comment.

Fairhaven Pharmacy owner and pharmacist Brian Meneses said he's been in the industry for 15 years and has never seen a drug shortage like the one he's witnessing now.

Meneses said there is no Massachusetts law that addresses a pharmacy's right to deny prescriptions regardless of the reason.

"It's more of a medical ethics question," he said. "You don't want to deny anyone medication, but at the same time you are limited by your wholesaler for what you can and can't get."

Meneses said filling cherry-picked prescriptions for customers can put up a red flag to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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