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A limited supply of children’s pain medicine has parents in Saskatchewan fuming.
Standing outside a pharmacy in downtown Regina, Darren John said he went to several places before finding some elusive drug, which includes products like Tylenol or ibuprofen.
“It’s disappointing,” he said.
CBC News has spoken to more than a dozen pharmacies across the province this month. All confirmed that they were either experiencing a shortage in pediatric pain medication or had experienced a shortage in the past few months.
Jaron Yee, a pharmacist who runs the Northgate Medicine Shoppe and Pharmacy in Regina, said the past month has been very busy.
“We’re seeing parents searching for kids’ Tylenol, kids’ Advil, and it’s unavailable,” he said.
The Saskatchewan government said it is aware of the shortfall and is working to address it.
Meanwhile, pharmacists and medical experts across the province say parents should not panic if they encounter empty shelves.
don’t hoard medicine
Michael Fougere, CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan, stressed in a recent interview that the shortage is a nationwide issue.
There are alternatives to the hard-to-find children’s pain medication, he said.
Fogere said it’s important for parents to talk to their child’s pharmacist.
The point, he said, is that parents need not worry about it.
Fogere pointed to a few possible explanations for the shortfall.
He said production of the children’s pain medicine had dropped significantly during the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, when cold and flu cases were low.
Now, as cases of colds, flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) decline, producers have had to meet demand.
Fougere said shortages of children’s pain medicine are also prompting people to buy in bulk.
“People are actually buying more than they need and it’s causing some bottlenecks [at] Stores too,” Fougere said.
Fougere and provincial health minister Paul Merriman have highlighted the potential for compounding pharmacists to act as a stop-gap to help people cope with the ongoing shortage.
Unlike a regular pharmacy, compounding pharmacies hold raw ingredients, and may prepare and make some medications on-site.
Yi, who operates a compounding pharmacy, said it is a simple solution for parents looking for medicine.
“Pharmacists are able to prescribe for mixed Tylenol, mixed Advil and all they have to do is bring their health card number,” he said.
Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab this week issued a word of caution to parents whose first instinct may be to turn to medication when their child catches a respiratory virus.
“Even if your child has a stuffy nose and a runny nose … and they’re not feeling well. They don’t need any medicine,” Shahab said. “Just keep them at home, keep them comfortable, keep them hydrated and then in a day or two they’re fine. They can go back to school.”
Now what happened
Merriman said the provincial government is working with the federal government to bring in more children’s pain medicine.
On Wednesday, Merriman confirmed Ottawa would soon deliver three months’ supply to the province, with the first examples of that shipment “on the ground within the next two to three weeks.”
However, Merriman laid the blame at the feet of the federal government for the shortfall.
“This is a Canadian issue. There is no shortage in the US or Europe,” he said.
The health minister said she has been told that Canadian medicine needs to have instructions in both French and English.
Merriman said in the legislature that he is trying to work with Ottawa to introduce the drug with monolingual packaging as a temporary solution.
Merriman said, “Rather than having no medicine at all, I would prefer to have only English or even French.”
This is a problem that the province is unable to solve on its own, he added. Saskatchewan cannot import the drug from the United States, as the drug is controlled by the federal government.
The solution may come sooner than later. On Friday, Health Canada announced it was importing one million bottles of foreign-produced children’s pain and fever medicine.
Federal officials have said those bottles should reach store shelves next week.
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health confirmed that the federal government’s announcement was the same one Merriman was referring to earlier this week.
“The Government of Saskatchewan is still awaiting a further update from Health Canada on a definite timeline for the arrival of these products in our province,” the ministry said in a statement.