Parents and critics want action on child painkiller shortages as flu season sets in

Experts who are considering a shortage of pain and fever medication for some children say governments, retailers and manufacturers can do several things to tackle the supply shortage that has lasted for months, but they are facing a growing demand that intensifies with cold and flu season.

Pharmaceutical companies, including Tylenol maker Johnson & Johnson and Advil producer Haleon, have already ramped up production to meet a “significant spike” in demand ranging 20-40% above all-time highs, said a spokesperson for industry group Food, Health & Consumer Products. from Canada.

But the problem is really demand-driven rather than supply-driven, said Anthony Fuchs, adding that “our members are doing all they can”.

“Many of our members have told us that they have increased production significantly,” Fuchs said, urging the public to refrain from panic buying.

“But we are still seeing that there are shortages due to demand, which generally increase as we move further and further into cold and flu season.”

Many pharmacies, meanwhile, are rationing inventory by limiting purchases per customer and putting children’s medications containing acetaminophen and ibuprofen — such as liquid and chewable products from Tylenol and Advil — behind the counter to avoid bulk purchases.

Danielle Paes, chief pharmacist at the Canadian Pharmacists Association, described the problem as a “supply challenge” rather than a shortage, but also pointed to increased demand “specifically fueled by high levels of activity. viral”.

“And it’s both COVID-19 but also other viruses in the community. It’s back-to-school season and that’s on top of that,” Paes said.

“Some pharmacists may choose to put it behind the counter just so they can have interaction with the parent or carer and make sure we can prevent bulk buying,” she added.

Yet many parents fear what awaits them if they can’t find medicine when they need it.

Calgary mum Tara Collins said she had to scramble when her two boys developed fevers and cold symptoms last month. She embarked on a fruitless search for relief at five pharmacies only to return home empty-handed.

Collins ended up getting two bottles from her mother-in-law, but said she ran out again.

“(I’m) very worried that I won’t be able to find the medicine that my children will need to get through this cold, this flu or even if we get COVID again,” said Collins, who has three children.

Becca Travadi, also from Calgary, said she resorted to non-drug treatments when her six-year-old recently fell ill and doesn’t know what the fall and winter season might bring.

“It’s terrifying, like, I don’t know what you can do,” said Travadi, who expects more disease to circulate in schools now that masks are largely removed.

On Wednesday, federal Conservative health critic Michael Barrett called on Ottawa to use emergency tools to allow the importation of health products that comply with Canadian regulations, noting that this has already been done with inhalers. labeled in a foreign language during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal health minister said Tuesday that Health Canada is “obviously concerned” about supply issues and has been in contact with manufacturers, pharmacists and provincial and territorial governments.

At the same time, Jean-Yves Duclos warned Canadians against stockpiling drugs, insisting that “the situation is under relative control”.

Mina Tadrous, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan School of Pharmacy, also linked supply issues to growing demand, noting “supply is flowing but it’s disappearing fast.”

It’s also not easy for drugmakers to resolve shortages quickly, he said, pointing to a myriad of factors that go into production, including raw material supply, factory schedules, labor issues and bottling, labeling and shipping details.

“There are a lot of stages and players,” Tadrous said.

“And they also don’t want to start overproducing because once the plant starts up, they don’t want to overproduce them and they’re stuck with all this stock. So they’re playing a game (in which)…they want to make sure they’re able to meet the demand that’s out there, but not overshoot. This is also a business decision on their part.

Tadrous described the past few months as “a classic presentation of how drug shortages work,” noting that it started with a springtime shortage of a specific brand, which in turn triggered secondary pressure on alternative products.

As those supplies have also dwindled, it appears some consumers have been stocking up when they might not have otherwise, he said. But he said relying on emergency imports, as Barrett suggests, is a step too far.

“I know it’s frustrating for everyone, but it’s not that bad. We still have so many other options and there are still drugs in the system. It’s just not on every shelf,” Tadrous said.

“In reality, it’s probably not the drug you want to pull all the levers for.”

Tadrous instead called for more clarity and communication on supply chain issues and delays.

“Canada is one of the only countries that requires reporting of drug shortages, which gives us an idea, but I don’t think we have a full picture of what’s going on and where these drugs are. are actually made,” he said.

“We’ve made some progress in improving drug shortages, but I think there’s still a lot to do to make sure we’re protecting the drug supply in Canada.

-With files from Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 5, 2022.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. The previous version commented on Barrett on Tuesday.

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