Children's liquid pain meds not available over-the-counter in some N.W.T. communities

Canada has faced a shortage of children's medications and the raw ingredient to make them for six months, despite full shelves in the U.S. Some pharmacies now keep products behind the counter and limit purchases. (Yvette Brend/CBC News - image credit)
Canada has faced a shortage of children's medications and the raw ingredient to make them for six months, despite full shelves in the U.S. Some pharmacies now keep products behind the counter and limit purchases. (Yvette Brend/CBC News - image credit)

A months-long nationwide shortage means liquid pain and fever-reducing medications for children are now unavailable over the counter in some Northwest Territories communities.

A six-month shortage of children's acetaminophen and ibuprofen products, including pediatric Tylenol and Advil, continues across the country due to what Health Canada calls "unprecedented demand."

Stores in some N.W.T. communities, including Fort Simpson, Nahanni Butte, Paulatuk and Sachs Harbour, have run out, meaning parents in those communities can only get those medications from health clinics.

Some parents have turned to Facebook, posting to community groups asking if anyone has an extra dose.

In Yellowknife, only one pharmacy had the liquid form of Children's Tylenol in stock. Aaron Laborde's pharmacy, Sutherland's Drug, had run out.

"We're trying to order every single day and generally nothing comes. We'll have an allocated amount which is one or two bottles that we can get into our stores once a week but that's about it," Laborde says.

"A couple of times we've had an order come in and it's gone in about an hour."

While some stores did have children's pain medication in tablet form, many children have trouble taking them and they can be a choking hazard. Chewable acetaminophen tablets are not recommended for kids under two years of age.

A combination of factors has created the shortage, according to information from epidemiologists, emergency room doctors and Health Canada officials: a lack of raw ingredients to make the drugs has combined with an uptick in respiratory viruses fuelled by the relaxed COVID measures. And panic buying is depleting stock as soon as it comes in.

In Fort Simpson, Northern Store pharmacist  Andrii Panshyn says he only has one bottle of the liquid pediatric acetaminophen behind the counter. Panshyn says he would give some to parents by the dose. He says he only has one dose left before he's completely out with no idea when he'll be able to get more.

"We have 100 millilitres left so it's basically for one more patient and that's it."

'Unprecedented demand'

Meanwhile, Health Canada said it is aware that supplies of pediatric acetaminophen and ibuprofen products remain limited in pharmacies and hospitals in various parts of the country.

It issued a public advisory in October.

"Supply of these products has been limited primarily due to unprecedented demand since the summer," a spokesperson said in a statement shared with CBC News.

Canada is importing supplies from Australia and the United States that will be distributed to hospitals around the country.

The N.W.T. Department of Health said in an emailed statement that they encourage those who can't get their hands on Tylenol or Advil, or who are experiencing illness and would like non-emergency advice or support, to reach out to the territory's new 811 service.

"811 can provide the advice to help individuals to manage at home if appropriate or to present for care if there is an illness or symptoms that need to be assessed by a provider in-person," the email says.

The department said health centres do stock acetaminophen and ibuprofen and "can dispense them to individuals in need."

"We have checked the stock of these medications and have not hit a point where we have zero supply in any community, however supply shortages continue and may limit the amount that is able to be dispensed to individuals," the email says.

"Parents know their children best and if they have a sick child and are concerned we encourage them to reach out to their health centre or primary care clinic, or if the issues are severe present for emergency care."