Children's liquid pain reliever in short supply at N.B. pharmacies

·4 min read
Some children's medications, including liquid Tylenol, are hard to come by in New Brunswick because of a national shortage. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Some children's medications, including liquid Tylenol, are hard to come by in New Brunswick because of a national shortage. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A shortage of children's liquid pain reliever shortage across the country is affecting pharmacies in New Brunswick too.

Kurtis Gallant, a pharmacist at Bowman's Pharmasave in Fredericton, said he was only recently made aware of the shortage of liquid children's Tylenol.

He said the supplier is short right now and he's unsure when more of the pain reliever will became available. Gallant said this sometimes happens with other medications.

Early Wednesday afternoon, only a few bottles of Infants' Tylenol were still on the shelf.

"Today, it seems to be flying off the shelf a little quicker than usual," Gallant said. "So I think people are starting to get a little bit of the news that it might be going short."

Although some are recommending people get prescriptions for children's Tylenol and Advil, it may not be the best option if it isn't covered through insurance, he said.

Gallant said something like Tylenol would usually be more expensive in prescription form, and although pharmacists could, in theory, provide those prescriptions, it is usually only done if the drug could be covered.

Some parents have shared ideas over the internet about alternatives if they can't find over-the-counter children's Tylenol or Advil, but Gallant advised being cautious.

While some parents may be tempted to reach for expired pain relievers for their children when they can't find new ones on the shelf, Gallant said this might not be the best idea.

"Typically, we do shy away from expired medications," he said.

Hannah Rudderham/CBC
Hannah Rudderham/CBC

He said when a medication is expired, the dosage might change, meaning the dose on the bottle might not be the same as what a child would be taking.

Some people in online parenting groups have thrown around the idea of using homeopathic solutions instead of relying on the children's medications in short supply.

But when it comes to homeopathic treatments such as essential oils, Gallant said pharmacists tend to rely on peer-reviewed clinical data, and there isn't much of when it comes to homeopathic solutions.

Gallant said the shortage doesn't seem to be affecting adult Tylenol.

Reason for shortage not clear

Ayub Chishti, a pharmacist at Campus Pharmacy on the University of New Brunswick campus in Fredericton, said he's noticed the shortage in both Tylenol and Advil products for children.

Advil manufacturer GSK Canada said in a statement it is "working tirelessly" to meet demand.

Tylenol manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and the New Brunswick Department of Health did not respond before deadline.

Gallant and Chishti said they haven't been told the cause of the shortage. Chishti said it's possible supply chain issues related to COVID-19 are contributing to the shortage.

Alternatives to child pain relievers

But Chishti said there are other options for parents who may need pain relievers for their child and can't access a prescription.

"There are different ways of helping out and hopefully the shortage will be just short term, but we don't know exactly when they will be available again," he said.

He said suppositories are an option for children.

Campus Pharmacy is a compounding pharmacy, meaning it can put certain medications into creams, liquids and  suppositories. Chishti said this is an option for dealing with the pain reliever shortage.

"If a child really badly needs it, then at our pharmacy we can also make liquid Tylenol for the parents that will need it as long as we can," he said.

Dr. Melanie MacInnis, the pharmacy clinical co-ordinator at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, said chewable tablets or melt-aways are also options.

Drugs may not be answer

She said if children are able to swallow regular tablets, they can take partial dosages of a regular strength pain reliever, but she said their parent should consult a pharmacist or doctor because the dose to give them will depend on the child's weight.

MacInnis said fevers can sometimes be taken down with a non-drug method such as a cold compress. She said fevers in children don't always need to be treated with Tylenol or Advil.

"We don't need to treat the number on the thermometer," she said. "We need to treat how our child feels.

"So if they are otherwise well and behaving as they normally would, there is no need to treat the fever even if the thermometer says that one is there."