(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Supply-line disruptions could cause Canadian drug shortage

Pharmacists have also seen shortages related to people stockpiling their prescribed medication

Canadians should brace for drug shortages as COVID-19 disrupts global supply lines, the federal health ministry’s top public servant says.

A lack of medications to fill ordinary prescriptions is an ongoing issue in Canada, but deputy health minister Stephen Lucas says COVID-19 is worsening the problem.

“We anticipate there will be shortages of health products given the global demand,” he told the House of Commons health committee.

The government has a team dedicated to addressing the problem, he said.

A large majority of pharmaceuticals, and key ingredients for drugs made elsewhere, come from China and India, according to the Canadian Pharmacists Association. COVID-19 has disrupted operations in those countries so much, nations across the world are finding the global supply chain stretched.

“What we’re going to see in the next month or so is the effects of the shutdown in China,” said the association’s spokesperson Barry Power.

Pharmacists have also seen shortages related to people stockpiling their prescribed medication, putting future supply in jeopardy, Power said.

There was a huge rush in March as people tried to secure their medications as physical distancing measures were put in place, with some people requesting six-month supplies, he said.

Over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, or Tylenol, have been in short supply for the same season.

Wholesalers began to warn the demand was not sustainable, especially considering the pressure on the supply chains.

Certain medical devices, like thermometers, are also in short supply due to global demand.

Pharmacists decided to take measures after watching the toilet-paper fiasco unroll, Power said, and the pharmacists’ group has recommended limiting patients to a one-month supply of their medications to try to prevent shortages.

Health Canada has asked Canadians not to stockpile drugs.

Pharmacists are particularly worried about patients who are on medications to treat heart conditions, asthma, other lung conditions and diabetes, since they are likely to wind up in hospitals if they can’t get their prescriptions filled.

Lucas said the government’s dedicated group is working with regulators in the United States, Australia and Europe to try to spot where the supply-chain disruptions are likely to occur, and what impact they might have on pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

“In addition, steps are taken to find substitutes and allow for the importation of other products that can help address it,” Lucas said.

Last week the House of Commons passed a massive bill giving the government the power to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, including measures to prevent drug shortages.

The government has essentially given itself the power to pass any new regulations it considers necessary to prevent or alleviate shortages, but has not revealed what those might be.

The government has also given itself the authority to allow manufacturers to make products needed during the health crisis, regardless of patent protections. That would allow more manufacturers to make drugs that are in short supply.

But there’s only so much that can be done when drugs and their key ingredients are scarce across the globe, said Power.

For instance, the government could expedite approvals for alternative medications that are already approved in countries with similar standards to Canada’s, but Canada would still have to compete with those countries for supply.

Officials could increase local production of in-demand drugs, but if the key ingredients aren’t available that won’t do much good, either.

While the full impact of the supply-line issues hasn’t yet been felt yet in Canada, Power said he expects it to happen within the month.

It will only get worse if COVID-19 infiltrates wholesalers’ workforces, which could mean entire warehouses shut down, he said.

Those issues will only compound the drug shortages Canada has been grappling with for years. On average, companies report roughly five new drug shortages per week, the pharmacists’ association says.

In 2018 it commissioned a survey of more than 1,700 pharmacists across the country, which showed that close to 80 per cent felt drug shortages had increased in the past three to five years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2020.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

CVRD to increase enforcement after audits reveal that curb-side recycling contamination in the district is well above acceptable limits. (File photo)
CVRD reports contamination in recyclables well above acceptable levels

Increased enforcement planned starting this summer

A conceptual rendering of the commercial plaza at 1130 Rocky Creek Road. (Town of Ladysmith/June 15 Council Agenda)
Rocky Creek commercial plaza passes public hearing

The proposed plaza at 1130 Rocky Creek Road would bring commercial activity to Ladysmith’s north end

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Most Read