Dwindling Drug Supply May Affect Canadians

A worldwide shortage of common medications could have serious repercussions across Canada?

Credit: Flickr/Sarah Macmillan

A shortage of raw materials has caused reduced production of some drugs

Are you finding it harder to refill your common medications? You’re not alone. Drug supply shortages are hitting pharmacies across the country, affecting everything from antibiotics to heart medications

With worldwide shortages of an unprecedented amount of medication, the problem not only affects patients in the community but can also impact your stay in hospital.

“We are seeing a lot of common drugs [in shortage] that have been around an awfully long time. We are seeing drugs unique to the hospital setting and widespread throughout the community. The scope is tremendous right now,” says Tessa Valg of Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care.

Drugs in Short Supply

Among the drugs in short supply are erythromycin, a common antibiotic often used for those who are allergic to penicillin; hydrocortisone lotion, used to treat various skin ailments; and thiopental sodium, a staple item used in hospitals during general anaesthesia.

Most patients are unaware of this concerning trend, but it can cause a disruption in the continuity of their care, leaving them scrambling to find alternative treatments, which may not be as effective. It may also end up costing the patient more if the substitute medication is not covered by the provincial health care plan.

Why the Drug Shortages?

Why the sudden problem? A number of factors have created a perfect storm, including manufacturing glitches and reduced production, and a shortage of raw materials. Many raw ingredients have been obtained from countries where standards are not as stringent as here.

With the discovery of possible contamination problems, manufacturers are staying away from these suppliers resulting in a worldwide shortage of ingredients. Regulatory changes to ensure quality have also resulted in manufacturer slowdown. Because the problem is so widespread, there appears to be no end in sight, with shortages expected to continue for the next couple of years.

For consumers relying on their medications, tracking down a substitute could cause delays and affect health.

“To be safe, I think it’s important that patients see their pharmacist a week before they run out of their medications,” advises Parkash Ragsdale of the BC Pharmacy Association.

Are Your Medications Affected?

In the U.S., drug manufacturers are required to notify the government of potential shortages. There is no such regulation in Canada, which is why many health professionals feel it’s time for Health Canada to become involved. If drug shortages affect your health or your loved ones, write to your MP asking that the government establish a system to monitor and assess this widespread problem.

You can also go online to see if your medications are among those most affected. The Canadian Pharmacists’ report details the problem and the national top 10 drug shortages can be viewed at:

Your Health with Dr. Rhonda Low airs weekdays during CTV News at Five and CTV News at Six.

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.