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N.W.T. pharmacists flag ongoing shortage of cough medicine

Julianne Fuller, a pharmacist at Ring's Pharmacy in Hay River, N.W.T., says her pharmacy has been dealing with medication shortages since last year. (Submitted by Julianne Fuller - image credit)
Julianne Fuller, a pharmacist at Ring's Pharmacy in Hay River, N.W.T., says her pharmacy has been dealing with medication shortages since last year. (Submitted by Julianne Fuller - image credit)

If you are looking for cough medication in the Northwest Territories right now, you might have trouble finding it.

Pharmacists in Yellowknife, Inuvik and Fort Smith all told CBC they were seeing shortages of cough medicine, as well as ongoing shortages of children's pain medication, infant formula and some prescription drugs.

Julianne Fuller, a pharmacist with Ring's Pharmacy in Hay River, said she's been noticing shortages of cough medicine since November or December.

"We have shortages of cough and cold products, we have shortages of … youth antibiotics, we have shortages of pain control meds. We have a variety of shortages that have been on and off over the last few months," she said.

Pharmacists across the country have been reporting medication shortages since last fall, especially for children's medication.

Those shortages never really went away. In January, pharmacists elsewhere in Canada pointed to the fact that Canadian manufacturers have limited capacity to increase their production of cold and flu medication.

At that time, pharmaceutical companies told CBC they were doing what they could to meet increased demand.

Harder to source medication

Fuller said the shortages have changed how she does her job.

N.W.T. pharmacists generally source medication from wholesalers in Alberta, she noted. Before the shortages, she ordered new medication once a day, at most; now she checks suppliers' stock multiple times a day just to source common medication.

"Sometimes a small number of them become available and we want to capture that order before they're not available any more," she explained.

She said she also spends much of her time trying to find ways to help patients if the medication or product they are used to isn't in stock.

"Dealing with drug shortages on a daily basis was not part of [my] practice a year ago," she said. "We would more simply be able to provide the product they are looking for and go from there."

Pharmacists finding alternatives

If people can't find the medication they are looking for, she suggested they ask the pharmacist for help to see if they can find a solution together. She said despite the shortages, they still have at least some medications to treat each problem.

"We've been able to make do with something for just about everything," she said.

CBC reached out to the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority to ask about the medication shortages.

Spokesperson David Maguire responded by email to say the health authority couldn't comment on medication shortages experienced by private businesses. He said health centres currently have sufficient supplies of acetaminophen, ibuprofen and amoxicillin, and can dispense them to people who need medication.

He added if anyone in the territory is struggling to access medication, they can reach out to staff at the health authority for help by calling 811.