Drug Shortage: People Stock Up As Demand Rises

Consumers across Canada are noticing empty drugstore shelves this cold and flu season.

Many have taken to Twitter to document how hard to find children’s and adult cough syrups, throat lozenges and cold medicine.

While supply chain issues have for months been blamed for the shortages, the chief pharmacist of the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) says the current problem has as much to do with increasing demand, with more people now catching cold viruses and with the flu season picking up speed.

“It’s not about widespread drug manufacturing shortages. Products are coming to pharmacies, but it’s growing demand and patient needs that are causing empty shelves,” said Dr. Danielle CPhA Paes to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday during a phone interview.

“I think the perception when you don’t see a product is that you have to stock up, and I think that contributes to that as well.”

This is the first cold/flu season people have experienced since the pandemic without masks or physical distancing restrictions. Experts say the increase is due to people catching viruses since their immune systems have not been exposed for two years.

WHAT ITEMS ARE MISSING?

An Ottawa resident tweeted a photo of the Shoppers Drug Mart at the Ottawa CF Rideau Centre, showing sparsely stocked shelves in the cough, cold and flu section.

The tweet mentions that she found “half-decent” supplies at another store, but other shoppers weren’t so lucky. Another Twitter user in Hamilton, Ont., said she couldn’t find any cold and flu medicine for adults or children or throat lozenges at her local Shoppers Drugmart.

Across Canada, the situation seems to be the same, with many people noticing that there are fewer essential cold and flu products on the shelves.

“It’s Canada-wide, that’s why we see it across the country,” Paes said. “It’s something we’re definitely watching.”

A Twitter user in Alberta referenced a conversation she had with her local pharmacist about how long the problem lasted.


SHOULD BUYERS BE WORRIED?

Kristen Watt, owner of Kristen’s Pharmacy in Southampton, Ont., told CTVNews.ca she understands why cold and flu medications are in short supply.

Watt said that in anticipation of cold and flu season in the fall of 2020, pharmacists stocked up on drugs only to see no demand as everyone was masked and staying home.

“Then we didn’t have most of the regular cough, cold (and) flu season, and so all of our stock expired, and we didn’t order much more,” a- she declared. “So I guess production has slowed down, and now we’re seeing an increase in demand because people aren’t masking up, they’re not walking away and so supplies have to increase.”

Watt said she wasn’t concerned about the lack of stock.

“There’s really little evidence of benefit from any of these cough (and) cold products, especially those that are combination products,” she told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday. Watt acknowledges that there was a shortage of supply, “but (for) most of us, at least in pharmacy and medicine, it’s not too much of a concern because (the drugs) that are supposed to reduce phlegm , they don’t really.”

Instead, she recommends plenty of fluids, rest, and warm drinks for sore throats and sinus rinses for congestion.

“People have symptoms that they haven’t had for a few years and of course they’re embarrassing,” she said of the situation.

Watt said the most important thing she tells her clients is to get their flu and COVID-19 shots and to stay home if they’re sick.

MORE STOCK TO COME?

For those who prefer to take these products, however, Paes believes the shortage will end. She told CTVNews.ca that manufacturers’ production levels were 35% above normal. The low stock is due to a greater spread of virus infections among communities.

“Viruses didn’t take a vacation this summer. And they continue to be present in our communities,” she said. “Usually what happens in the summer months is that manufacturers kind of use that time to build up their supplies before cough, cold and flu season, they haven’t been able to accumulate supplies.”

CONTINUED SHORTAGE OF MEDICINES FOR CHILDREN

Toronto ER doctor Kashif Pirzada said on Twitter that he and his family have suffered four colds since his eldest returned to school. He has seen more children come to hospital and be cared for this year with the return to school and the lifting of mask mandates.

“They’re not just for COVID(-19), the flu…Every virus is back pretty much,” he said. “And my family is no exception.”

Pirzada was relieved when his family in New York agreed to let children’s drugs cross the border over Thanksgiving.

For months, liquid children’s medications Tylenol and Advil have been extremely hard to come by. The shortage is due to increased demand this season and increased transmission of cold viruses, says Pirzada.

ALTERNATIVES FOR DEALING WITH A SHORTAGE

Pirzada recommended that parents consult local pharmacists and measure doses of adult medications if necessary. He also pointed to a tweet from Kyro Maseh, a Toronto pharmacist, who explained how parents can safely give adult Tylenol and Advile to children.

Pirzada said drug alternatives like Vicks VapoRub — a topical ointment designed to act as a decongestant — humidifiers and honey can help kids (and adults) feel better without cold medicine.

He also mentioned that adults (but not children) can take allergy medications, like Reactine, and decongestants, like Mucinex, in place of cold medication Tylenol.

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