April 23, 2012

Canadian Drug Shortage: Recent History Of A Mystery

The shortage of prescription generic drugs in Canada is not a recent event, dating back to the fall of 2010 or earlier, states a recent history of the shortage in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Hematologist and medical historian Dr. Jacalyn Duffin first noticed the shortage of an old, reliable drug in November 2010. She and colleagues from the Kingston Regional Cancer Centre tried to find answers to this baffling shortage as well as to focus media and public attention on the issue.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association 2010 survey indicated that most pharmacists – up to 98% – frequently experienced shortages of drugs during each working shift.

Because generic drugs are significantly less expensive than brand name drugs, "when generics go missing, it's the working poor who suffer," states Dr. Duffin; as up to 10% of Canadians have affordability issues with prescriptions drugs.

The recent slowdown and fire at Sandoz's plant in Boucherville, Quebec, thrust the issue into the limelight.

"The potential loss of 800 jobs and the threat to 90% of Canada's injectable generics spawned much media coverage," writes Dr. Duffin. "The country woke up, as if the problem had not been raging for two years."

Although an emergency debate in the House of Commons and a motion mandating drug companies to advise of possible shortages ensued, the issue has not been resolved.

"Boucherville is merely the tip of a gigantic, international iceberg," Dr. Duffin states. "The problem continues not only for injectables, but for all generics sold at pharmacies, whether manufactured in Canada or abroad. We need the federal government, Health Canada, and perhaps the ministries of industry, finance and foreign affairs to help locate and address causes inside and outside the country," she concludes. "Unless we identify the real causes of this problem among the many hypotheses, we will lurch from crisis to crisis for a long time to come."


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