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Local pharmacists say drug shortages have grown in recent years

Social media posts searching for children’s Tylenol or Advil have become all too common in recent months, but the problem doesn’t stop at over-the-counter medications.
Nicole Schettler, owner of Nicole's Pharmacy on Tudor Glen, shows the near bare shelves of Tylenol and cough and cold medications on Sept. 9, 2022. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

Social media posts searching for children’s Tylenol or Advil have become all too common in recent months, but the problem doesn’t stop at over-the-counter medications.

Backorders and shortages of medications have always been an issue with medications in Canada, but according to a couple of St. Albert pharmacists, that issue has been growing.

“Drug supply has actually been an issue in Canada, pre-pandemic, and it's only been worsened by supply chain issues and supply and demand since the pandemic. We've certainly seen drug shortages grow,” said Nicole Schettler owner of Nicole’s Pharmacy.

Schettler has been trying to bring awareness to drug shortages for quite some time, she said.

“When I first graduated, it was rare to have two or three things on backorder kind of not available. And now when we send an order, probably half of it,” said Schettler.

Backorders could be the result of a shut down for a manufacturing issue, or impurity, or recall, said Schettler.

When asked about what might be causing drug shortages in the country a spokesperson for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, Natalie Mohamed said in an email Health Canada is responsible for regulating the safety, efficacy and quality of drugs in Canada, but it does not have oversight over business decisions made by manufacturers related to the supply or manufacturing of a particular drug.  

Mohamed also directed The Gazette to a Health Canada website on drug shortages that states drug shortages are the responsibility of stakeholders through the supply chain and Health Canada works closely with Market authorization holders (MAHs) to mitigate shortages.

“The Government of Canada is committed to safeguarding the Canadian drug supply and ensuring people in Canada have access to the drugs they need,” said Mohamed.

Schettler said the government has down some good things when it comes to shortages with the Depo Provera shortage being an example.

“We haven't been able to get Canadian labelled Depo Provera now for probably a good year, year and a half. But we've been getting the US version. It's just doesn't have all the same labelling —but that seems to have helped with that situation,” she said of the birth control medication. 

Shelby Robinson a pharmacist and pharmacy manager at Dispensaries Ltd. said supply issues have always been a problem.

“I would say over the past few years, I think it has been a growing issue versus when I first became a pharmacist… Shortages not only can they not get the product or there's a recall, like bugging up things, but it could be also just the demand for things is increased now,” she said.

She said her pharmacy has a more specialized market, as they deal more with prescriptions for hormone restoration.

“There's a couple products that we dispense a lot of that are a problem getting in right now,” she said.

For the specialized hormones Dispensaries Ltd. offers, Robinson said the reason they could be seeing a shortage is a supply and demand problem as people are taking care of their bodies differently than they were a few years ago.

“So that's going to increase some demand for different products that in the past, wasn't used as much,” said Robinson.

Sometimes supply issues are easily fixed. Robinson said the pharmacy is able to compound medications, but not all pharmacies are able to compound.

“It's a niche market. There are a lot of rules and regulations around it. So, depending on the pharmacy and the company, they may not be willing to invest in that. But we see it as like a golden opportunity,’ she said.

Robinson said as long as they have the ingredients for a medication, they can customize a medication or over the counter drug to the needs of their client.

“We can customize dosage form so people can take it better. We can flavor things so kids will accept it better. Even adults. There's so many opportunities with compounding when it comes to like these problems with shortages,” she said.

There are some drawbacks to compounded medication including cost and insurance plans “might not be on board with covering certain formulations.”

“We can't compound something that is commercially available that you can get on the market. But if it's not commercially available, that we can certainly do that,” said Robinson.

Schettler said there are still a number of drugs on shortage, but the most upsetting shortage of her career has been the acetaminophen shortage.

Both Schettler and Robinson said if parents are having problems finding children’s fever and pain reliever to speak with their pharmacist. A facility, like Robison’s, can make compound Tylenol in a day.

Schettler said her pharmacy can order in compound medicine for parents or give them other options depending on the age and weight of the child.

“Acetaminophen is just such a common childhood medicine. Fever relievers for children is very important. You want to manage their pain, their fever — any sort of symptoms. Small children are at risk of seizures from fevers,” she said.

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