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Health Canada experiencing a drug shortage

By Atiba Nelson, Staff Reporter


Last week, Health Canada alerted Canadians to a complicated national healthcare system problem: drug shortages.

Currently, Health Canada reports that Canada is facing a shortage of approximately 2,000 types of drugs.

The list of drugs include a myriad of pharmaceuticals, with most of the media coverage focused on a breast cancer drug—for certain types of breast cancer—called Tamoxifen. However, many common drugs used to anesthetize wounds (lidocaine), lower high blood pressure (hydralazine), and control blood sugar levels (glyburide) have also made the list.

Health Canada has set up a number of venues to communicate drug shortages to the public, including a website——in partnership with Bell Canada to provide real-time updates on shortages (or anticipated shortages) of drugs available to Canadians, as well as if the drug shortage has been resolved.

Although Health Canada communicates drug shortages, the governmental department responsible for national public health has little control of whether Canada has a sufficient supply of pharmaceutical for the nation.

Canada’s drug supply chain is streamlined into four stages: drug approvals, manufacturing, procurement slash distribution, and front-line delivery. According to Health Canada, shortages can happen at any part of the supply chain, but mostly occur in the manufacturing stage.

During the manufacturing process, raw materials or active ingredients essential to the creation of the drug may be in short supply, equipment used to manufacture a drug may be broken or outdated, and or the manufactures may poorly forecast their production, all of which may lead to drug storages in Canada and worldwide.

To address the issue of drug shortages within Canada, Health Canada has suggested moving away from a sole source model—where the government buys a particular drug from only one vendor, although multiple vendors produce the drug—and requesting that suppliers create an inventory of drugs products known to be at high-risk for storages.

“The health and safety of Canadians is our top priority, and we recognize the significant impact that this shortage has on patients,” said Anna Maddison, a spokesperson for Health Canada, regarding to the shortage.

Health Canada has taken a number of steps to mitigate the effects that drug shortages will have on Canadians. One strategy has been to convene a task force with concerned stakeholders about what can be done to eliminate shortages.

Some healthcare providers are limiting sales and advising patients to cut their pills in half so that current prescriptions last longer.