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Nunavut gov't warns of 'temporary' shortage of children's pain medicine

Northmart pharmacy in Iqaluit had bare shelves this week in the children's pain relief section. (Sarah Krymalowski/CBC - image credit)
Northmart pharmacy in Iqaluit had bare shelves this week in the children's pain relief section. (Sarah Krymalowski/CBC - image credit)

Nunavut is no exception to the national shortage of children's pain medication.

The territorial government officially warned of a "temporary" shortage of children's Advil and Tylenol this week.

Pharmacist Chris Voss with the Northmart pharmacy in Iqaluit said he's been keeping children's pain medication behind the counter for the last several months.

Voss said the shortage comes down to supply and demand.

"We used to get it all the time before COVID, but everybody was inside with masks for a while," he said.

Now that the cold and flu season has hit this year in Canada, he said "everybody is …. buying lots of cold and flu stuff over the counter."

Voss said it was around September when the pharmacy noticed its orders of children's pain relief weren't coming in. That's when they started putting their remaining supply behind the counter and "triaging patients as they come in."

Right now, he said the pharmacy has been able to give tablets and liquid forms of the medicine.

He said an incoming resupply of the medication has been "sporadic."

"I'm not sure on exact numbers. But sometimes it comes in like once a week, sometimes it doesn't come in at all," Voss said.

If your child is sick, Voss said to talk to a pharmacist before administering any medication not meant for children.

"Don't give adult stuff, ask the pharmacist what's best," he said.

Sarah Krymalowski/CBC
Sarah Krymalowski/CBC

That's because there are different ingredients in adult pain medication, and children under six years old typically shouldn't have it.

"It's just regular Tylenol, regular Advil, you don't want to risk giving your child a medication that they shouldn't have or even possibly overdosing them on something that they shouldn't be getting," Voss warned.

He added the pharmacy hasn't run out of children's medicine yet and that they are looking at ordering compounded versions — a type of supply made by pharmacists rather than big brands — from Winnipeg.

"So we are getting supply, and we're doing what we can to help," Voss said.

Last week, the federal government said it was importing a million bottles of foreign-produced children's pain and fever medication to help ease a months-long shortage, and that it would begin showing up on shelves this week. Voss said his pharmacy hasn't seen that supply yet but that he's confident it will come.

For now, the Government of Nunavut still has a supply of kids' medications at health centres and hospitals.

Carmine Nieuwstraten, the acting territorial director of pharmacy for the Nunavut government, added that people should not use aspirin if their child has a fever as that could also potentially cause harm.

She recommended that Nunavummuit go to their local health centres if their fevers are above 38 C, or if the fever lasts several days.

Nieuwstraten said there is always the possibility that the territory could run into challenges obtaining the necessary supply.

"But we're working really hard to prepare as much as we can in advance to ensure that we are able to access the supply that's needed," she said.

When it comes to other children's medication shortages, like amoxicillin, in other areas of the country, Nieuwstraten said the territory is keeping an eye on the situation.

"We are monitoring our medication supply status quite closely in light of what we're hearing across the country," she said. "We do have several weeks supply of amoxicillin, for example, still available and are continuing to work to look at how best to conserve that supply and obtain additional supply."