Pharmacists urge parents not to stockpile children’s fever and painkillers due to shortages in British Columbia

Pharmacists say difficulties with the supply of raw ingredients are to blame for shortages of over-the-counter children’s pain relievers and fever medications in British Columbia pharmacies and retail stores, but they put cautions parents against stockpiling products or attempting to adjust doses at home.

Children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen products, often referred to by the brand names Advil and Tylenol, and some cold and flu medications are in short supply in Canada, with stores emptied within hours of products hitting the shelves .

Chris Chiew, vice president of pharmacy and healthcare at London Drugs, said the retailer has been unable to maintain a stock of brand name products, generic products and products mixed by pharmacists from London Drugs.

“They are struggling to source the raw materials to make the products – coming directly from the manufacturer to us is not the problem,” he said. “It’s really about getting the raw ingredients from overseas to try and make them.”

Advil manufacturer GSK Canada said in a press release it is “working tirelessly” to meet demand, while Tylenol maker Johnson & Johnson told CBC News it is “taking all possible steps to ensure product availability”.

Neither said when the ingredient shortages might be resolved, but Chiew said the drug shortage is expected to last until the fall.

“There are alternatives available,” he said. “If they can’t find junior strength acetaminophen, there are options that a pharmacist can help dose based on the patient’s body weight.”

Flu, COVID-19 likely driving high demand

Barbara Gobis, director of the Pharmacists Clinic at the University of British Columbia, said this was just the latest in a series of other short-term over-the-counter drug shortages, including a recent shortage of acetaminophen products in May 2022.

She said an increase in colds, flu and COVID-19 cases are also likely to be behind the products flying off the shelves.

Some children’s drugs, including children’s Tylenol, are in short supply in Vancouver. Rising cases of colds, flu and COVID-19 are also likely behind products flying off the shelves, says UBC professor Barbara Gobis. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“It’s been a bit busier summer for colds and flu because all the people who stayed indoors and didn’t interact with each other came out of the summer and spread viruses – and certainly with COVID still circulating,” she said.

With the shortage likely to last until the fall and the start of the school year, Gobis encouraged parents not to discriminate against generic drugs, which contain the same key ingredients.

“If you like Tylenol because of its flavor and can’t get it, there are still other products made by different manufacturers that can provide you with the ingredient acetaminophen,” she said.

“Once the product enters your child’s body, they can’t tell if it’s acetaminophen of one brand or another, it’s there to do the job.”

Gobis said it was okay to take an over-the-counter medicine a few weeks after its expiry date, as long as it was stored safely.

Children’s fever and shortage of pain medication not cause for panic, pharmacists say

Over-the-counter fever and pain medications for children are rare in Canada, prompting some hospitals to recommend getting a prescription just in case. However, pharmacists tell caregivers not to panic and stop stockpiling.

But she cautioned against administering long-expired products or adjusting dosages by cutting out pills meant for adults.

“Your pharmacist has all kinds of tricks and ways to make a formulation or product available that will meet your needs without you having to do it at home,” she said.

“In a case like this, especially when it comes to children, we want to err on the side of caution and follow the advice of professionals who know.”

The public is invited not to store

In a statement, Health Canada urged the public not to stockpile the drugs.

The agency said it was working with manufacturers, including the Canadian Pharmacists Association, and with provinces and territories to alleviate shortages, adding that those measures “may include regulatory action,” though they did not provide further details.

“If you have two kids, one bottle will usually be enough for what you need for the fall. Don’t buy six or seven bottles because that’s the number you see on the shelf,” Chiew said.

He added that although supply chain issues for over-the-counter drugs will not normalize until spring, stocks of prescription drugs at London Drugs remain stable.

Gobis said BC pharmacies are well equipped to ensure patients have consistent access to the medications they need.

“Pharmacists deal with supply chain issues on a daily basis,” she said.

“It just happens to be those products at the moment, and that will pass. We have alternatives, we have options, and we have ways to meet the needs of our patients and their parents to make sure everything will be fine. “

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