If during a visit to Parc-Extension pharmacy you are met with empty shelves when you need pain medication for your child, you are not alone. This is what parents face when they go to the pharmacy to buy acetaminophen or ibuprofen for their sick children all over Canada. Despite an increase in production by manufacturers, these pediatric drugs remain in short supply. So much so that Ottawa recently approved the “exceptional importation” of products from the United States and Australia to supply hospitals in Canada.
Respiratory infections, which are currently affecting children, are at the root of the problem, according to the industry and pharmacists. Again, on Monday November 7th, the occupancy rate on stretchers in Montreal pediatric hospitals approached or exceeded 200%.
Parents contribute to this shortage, as they come to pharmacies to buy them with the prospect of stocking up, because they are afraid of running out if they need them later forgetting that these drugs have an expiry date.
Canada imports drugs
According to Health Canada, manufacturers of acetaminophen and ibuprofen supplying the Canadian market “have significantly increased their production”. “Some are producing at record levels and are exploring options to further increase production and expedite restocking where product is needed most,” according to an agency email.
In the meantime, the Montreal Children’s Hospital must manufacture “special preparations” of acetaminophen or ibuprofen in suspension from tablets or powder that they dilute in a liquid.
The hospital claims to have enough tablets. “But the supply of the liquid formulation is not stable,” said the coordinator of the pediatric hospital’s pharmacy department, Thanh Thao Ngo. Thanks to the preparation of drugs in suspension, “no child is penalized”, she underlines. However, this involves “a lot more work”, according to her.
At the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center (CHU), they claime to have “the analgesics and anti-inflammatories in common use required to treat patients with the situation being closely monitored”. Tight management of supplies has been ensured since the beginning of the crisis, and alternative solutions are regularly assessed. Community pharmacists also tightly manage their stock. Some are now placing pediatric ibuprofen and acetaminophen products behind the counter, according to Benoit Morin, president of the Quebec Association of Proprietary Pharmacists (AQPP). It is therefore worthwhile to inquire with your pharmacist. Members of the AQPP also prepare vials of acetaminophen in suspension themselves.
Benoit Morin is hopeful that the shortage will subside “as soon as the wave of infections diminishes”. “For us, it’s not necessarily a big concern, but I can understand that for parents, it is,” he says. These are not essential drugs. Of course, it makes the child feel better, but it won’t cure or prevent complications. In case of fever, parents can give their child a warm water bath to relieve it, he said.