Medication shortage relief expected next week

Health Canada is assuring Canadians in remote and rural areas that they will soon have access to children’s pain and fever medications now that more than one million bottles of product from outside the country will start to appear on pharmacy and retailer shelves next week.

The federal health agency has been working with manufacturers and retailers to make sure products are distributed “equitably” and go where they are most needed.

The foreign-sourced products include liquid ibuprofen for children and liquid acetaminophen for children and infants, said Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical advisor with Health Canada, in a press conference on Friday.

“The idea is we want to make sure the product is used responsibly and that the supply that we have is being conserved as much as possible, and … that includes making sure that the product reaches rural and remote and northern regions, where we know that there may be more difficulties accessing health services,” Sharma said.

Nelson Jackson, a pharmacist at Neepawa Pharmacy, 74 kilometres northeast of Brandon, said he hasn’t heard from either the federal government or wholesalers regarding when he’ll be able to stock more products.

“They usually allocate [the medicine] through the wholesaler. Every pharmacy gets its allocation, but I don’t know what they’re planning.”

Children’s cough syrup has also been hard to secure, Jackson said, and worried parents and caregivers are beginning to show signs of anxiety.

“Every couple of days [the wholesaler] will send me one bottle of Benylin cough syrup. One bottle. People behave as you would expect them to … [asking] ‘Oh, can we have six more?’ Because they want to hoard … they’re afraid that once they use that bottle, they won’t be able to get any more.”

No information had been passed on to the Shoppers Drug Mart on Victoria Avenue in Brandon as of Friday, either, said Parth Shaa, a pharmacist who works there.

Parents are understandably concerned for their children in light of the drug shortages, Shaa said.

“It’s for their little ones, so for sure they will feel many feelings, and being frustrated is one [of] them, and anxious if their kid is not doing well.”

Elissa Kennedy, a mother of a two-year-old boy and a six-month-old girl in Souris, said she and other parents are very worried about their children this cold and flu season.

“I have a six-month-old who is vulnerable because of her age, and I have an immunocompromised son who was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit a few months ago and [had to be put] on a … machine to help him breathe.”

Being exposed to other people’s germs is Kennedy’s main concern since her son attends daycare. Kennedy, who works in a daycare facility, said she sees many children being allowed to attend who should not be due to their symptoms.

“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on people from their employers to not miss work.”

In the past month alone, Kennedy said, her son has been sick with a cold and gastroenteritis.

“With these viruses going around, how are we to comfortably treat symptoms at home when it’s so hard to come by pain relievers for children?”

Shaa said importing acetaminophen and ibuprofen from other countries will go a long way to helping local parents who are desperately seeking the medications.

While Prairie Mountain Health has faced challenges when it comes to the supply of children’s medication within its hospitals, it has managed the shortage through its “normal” supply chain, said Mike Mitchell, director of pharmacy services for PMH.

“We have been able to ensure there is no disruption to the supply of children’s Tylenol and Advil for our in-hospital patients.”

The health authority has a designated team of regional staff who manage medication stock and handle drug shortages, Mitchell said. PMH has also limited the use of Tylenol and Advil regionally, especially infant varieties of the medication.

“For parents of children who are admitted to hospitals in PMH, rest assured that we have supply for your child if they are admitted,” Mitchell said.

Health Canada has also been working with Indigenous Services Canada to ensure that Indigenous communities get access to the medications as well.

Indigenous Services Canada didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Despite manufacturers ramping up production to record levels, demand has continued to increase and “significantly outpace” the supply of children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen, Sharma said, leading Health Canada to allow access to foreign product to supplement the country’s supply.

Three proposals to import and supply the pain and fever-reducing drugs have been approved by Health Canada. While it’s encouraging, Sharma said, Health Canada continues to look for additional sources of foreign supplies of both acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

When Health Canada receives a proposal, the organization reviews it to ensure that the products have the same high quality and efficacy as what is normally available in Canada.

“We also need to ensure that people will have access to critical safety information in the official language of their [choice]. That includes information on ingredients, dosing, and potential side-effects,” Sharma said.

Information leaflets, tearaway sheets and QR codes will accompany foreign or unfamiliar products set to hit shelves next week.

Jackson said he hasn’t received any informational materials or heard about how he’ll be required to display them.

During the press conference, Sharma also said there is currently a shortage of certain formulations of amoxicillin, an antibiotic medication, in Canada as well. Health Canada is working closely with manufacturers and the Canadian Pediatric Society to assess the issue, she said.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun