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Medication Flavoring for Children Belongs in All California’s Pharmacies, Not Just a Few

Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D - Inglewood) was elected to the California State Assembly in June 2022 representing the cities and communities of Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lenox, Los Angeles, Marina del Rey, Venice, West Athens, Westchester and Westmont in Los Angeles County.

Not Just a Few

By Tina McKinnor

Imagine you are a single mother in Inglewood with a seriously ill child in urgent need of an antibiotic to treat an infection. No family support system. No car. But you have healthcare that covers your medication, which is conveniently available at your neighborhood pharmacy. Today, that pharmacy can easily add flavoring to the antibiotic to make it easier for your ailing child to take. What a relief!

But what if the only pharmacy with the ability to flavor that medication were 10, 20, 40, 100 miles away? Then what? Suddenly your access to the best medication for your child is out of reach.

If the California Board of Pharmacy has its way, this will become the new reality. It is planning to effectively ban local pharmacies statewide from flavoring medication for children by limiting flavoring only to specially regulated  “compounding” pharmacies.

This will pose a major obstacle to healthcare access; finding a compounding pharmacy is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. While there are over 5,000 convenient neighborhood pharmacies throughout California, compounding pharmacies are few and far between.

According to data from the Alliance for Pharmacy Compounding, within a 40-mile radius of Los Angele there are only a handful of compounding pharmacies. There is no way for them to meet the demand of millions of Angelenos.

The Board of Pharmacy’s position has nothing to do with protecting public health. In fact, their new position is a complete 180 from how they’ve treated flavoring for decades. Millions of medications have been flavored over the past 20 years in California without causing any harm to a single child. Instead of sticking with the status quo that has been working just fine for California families, the Board suddenly wants to layer new regulations on our pharmacies. No matter how hard they try to explain the need for change, it just doesn’t add up.

Which is why I’m authoring Assembly Bill 782. This measure codifies the Board of Pharmacy’s longstanding position by saying “flavoring to enhance palatability” is not compounding.  This legislation protects the status quo, ensuring access to flavored medicines continues to be available to all Californians.

There is a role for compounding pharmacies to make custom medications for people with highly specific medication needs. But flavoring isn’t one of them. California has long exempted flavoring from compounding rules.

The board claims it’s not banning flavored medicine; this is terribly misleading. Its new position will choke off the supply of flavored medication because neighborhood pharmacies won’t be able to adopt the expensive and time-consuming compounding requirements. The reality is, in the face of so much red tape, pharmacies big and small will stop offering flavored medications all together. This amounts to bitter taste for California pediatricians, pharmacists and parents. But more importantly, it will compromise the health of millions of children.

To be clear: flavored medicines have no downside. Using specialized equipment, more than 40,000 pharmacies nationwide flavor children’s liquid medication. This has helped countless parents and children.

When I decided to run for the State Assembly, one of my top priorities was to promote greater access to healthcare, especially in underserved communities. I never imagined something so simple as doing the right thing to help children take their medicine would need to be addressed. Yet here we are. But we’re going to fix it. I’m very appreciative of the support of my co-authors, Asm. Lackey and Asm. Irwin, who want to see this made right as well.

Our healthcare system has enough problems and our parents have it hard enough. We don’t need to invent a new set of problems that will deprive Californians of easy access to the medicine their children so desperately need.