Many pharmacies in Newfoundland and Labrador aren't able to stock cold and pain relief medications due to supply chain problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and now some prescription medications are also becoming scarce.
Denise Vokey of Paradise learned about the shortages the hard way when her daughter recently underwent dental surgery to have some teeth extracted and a retainer put in.
"She was given a prescription for pain," Vokey told CBC News on Wednesday, "but they said if she was having pain in between her dosage, we could supplement with acetaminophen."
However, when Vokey went to the drugstore, she could only find drugs that were incompatible with her daughter's prescription.
"Everything was wiped out," she said.
Vokey was eventually able to find a usable painkiller — the last one on the shelf —at a different store, but she isn't the only one running up against drug shortages.
Robert Doyle, a pharmacist at Neighbourhood Pharmacy in St. John's for over 30 years, says they're still experiencing shortages that began during the height of the pandemic. But while the main concern then was a shortage of prescription drugs, the type of medications they can't keep stocked has changed.
"We're finding there's a bit of a shortage right now and some of the common items they might expect to find on our shelves like a Tylenol, Benylin and Robitussin for both children and adults," said Doyle. That's in addition to some blood pressure medications and common pain medications.
We've been on the front line trying to work safely for both patients and our staff. - Robert Doyle
The reasons for the continued scarcity — throughout the province and Canada, said Doyle — are complex, but familiar to anyone experiencing empty shelves during the era of COVID-19.
"It's been suggested that some of the manufacturing plants where the medications are being made, perhaps there's issues with the plants or maybe some of the workers have COVID in different countries and the plants are running behind schedule there," said Doyle.
He says there are also raw material shortages and transportation issues, all still due to COVID-19 disruptions.
Check for alternatives
Doyle's advice is to ask a pharmacist about their supplies, or alternatives available for drugs that are out of stock.
Doyle said the last couple of years have been challenging for pharmacy owners and pharmacists.
"You can imagine people when they're unwell, perhaps one of the first steps they'll make is to the local pharmacy. So we've been on the front line trying to work safely for both patients and our staff," he said.
"It seems like it's worked well for the pharmacies. You know, we're doing what we can to help out."