Sask. experts, government urge caution as end to shortage of children's pain medication in sight

Saskatchewan continues to experience a shortage of children's pain medication like Tylenol, Advil and Ibuprofen.  (Jenna Leith/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan continues to experience a shortage of children's pain medication like Tylenol, Advil and Ibuprofen. (Jenna Leith/CBC - image credit)

A limited supply of children's pain medication has Saskatchewan parents vexed.

Standing outside a pharmacy in downtown Regina, Darren John said he'd gone to multiple locations before finding some of the elusive medication, which includes products like Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

"It's frustrating," he said.

CBC News has spoken with more than a dozen pharmacies throughout the province this month. All confirmed that they were either experiencing a shortage in children's pain medication or had experienced a shortage in the past few months.

WATCH| Parents warned not to hoard children's meds amid shortage 

Jarron Yee, a pharmacist who operates the Northgate Medicine Shoppe and Pharmacy in Regina, said the past month has been very busy.

"We're seeing parents on the search for children's Tylenol, children's Advil, and it's unavailable," he said.

The Saskatchewan government said it is aware of the shortage and is working to address it.

Meanwhile, pharmacists and medical experts across the province say parents should not panic if they encounter empty shelves.

Do not hoard medication

Michael Fougere, CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan, stressed in a recent interview that the shortage is a nationwide issue.

He said there are alternatives to the hard-to-find children's pain medication.

Fougere said it's important for guardians to speak with their child's pharmacist.

"The point being is that that parents don't need to be concerned about this," he said.

Fougere pointed to a few possible explanations for the shortage.

He said production for children's pain medication was significantly lowered during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were fewer cases of cold and flu.

Now, as cases of cold, flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) have picked up this fall, producers have had to catch up to demand.

Fougere said the scarcity of children's pain medication is also leading people to purchase large amounts when they do find it.

"People are actually buying more than they may actually need and that's creating some of a bottleneck [at] stores as well," Fougere said.

WATCH| Health Canada importing 1 million bottles of children's medication to cope with shortage 

Fougere and provincial Health Minister Paul Merriman have highlighted the ability for compounding pharmacists to act as a stop-gap to help people get through the ongoing shortage.

Unlike regular pharmacies, compounding pharmacies have raw ingredients on hand, and can formulate and create certain medications on site.

Yee, who operates a compounding pharmacy, said it is a simple solution for guardians looking for medication.

"Pharmacists are able to prescribe for compounded Tylenol, compounded Advil and all they have to bring is their health card number," he said.

Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab issued a word of caution this week to parents whose first instinct may be to use medication when their child catches a respiratory virus.

"Even if your child has a stuffy nose and has a runny nose … and did not feel right. They don't need any medication," said Shahab. "Just keep them at home, keep them comfortable, keep them hydrated and then in day or two they're fine. They can go back to school."

What happens now

Merriman said that the provincial government is working with the federal government to bring in more children's pain medication.

On Wednesday, Merriman confirmed that Ottawa would soon distribute a three-month supply to the province, with the first examples of that shipment "on the ground within the next two to three weeks."

However, Merriman laid the blame for the shortage at the feet of the federal government.

"This is a Canadian issue. There is not a shortage in the U.S. or in Europe," he said.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

The health minister said he has been told the issue is the requirement for Canadian medication to have instructions in both French and English.

Merriman said in the legislature that he is trying to work with Ottawa to bring in medication with unilingual packaging as a temporary solution.

"I'd rather have English only or even French only rather than having no medication," Merriman said.

He said it's a problem that the province is unable to address on its own. Saskatchewan cannot import medication from the United States, as medication is regulated by the federal government.

Solutions may be coming sooner rather than later. On Friday, Health Canada announced it is importing a million bottles of foreign-produced children's pain and fever medication.

Those bottles should arrive on store shelves next week, federal officials have said.

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health confirmed the federal government's announcement was what Merriman was referencing earlier this week.

"The Government of Saskatchewan is still awaiting a further update from Health Canada on a firm timeline for the arrival of these products in our province," the ministry said in a statement.