Drug shortage on horizon after plant shuts down
Published Wednesday, March 7, 2012 10:18PM EST
Fears over shortages of some medications manufactured by a pharmaceutical company plagued by a production slowdown and recent fire has Health Canada planning to fast-track approval for new sources of those drugs.
Sandoz Canada is the sole supplier of more than 100 mostly injectable drugs, including injectable morphine and dimenhydrinate, known to the general public as Gravol. Six of the drugs have now become a high priority for the federal government to secure from another source.
Health Canada is hoping to secure these medications from the United States and Germany, where Sandoz is headquartered, before there are widespread shortages. The federal government cannot purchase or supply the drugs, it only regulates the transaction.
A hospital in the Outaouais has already had to cancel more than 60 elective surgeries this week due to the drug shortage.
Dr. Paul Normand, an internal medicine physician at Lachine Hospital, told CTV that the facility has about a week's worth left of drugs. He said that injectable or IV forms of some drugs are vitally important to some patients, including those that can't swallow pills.
Colon cancer patient Curtis Ouelette, who is in the last stage of his illness, manages his pain with injectable morphine. He only has about a week's supply of his medication, and is worried that he will be unable to get more.
"I don't really know what kind of timeline I'm on, for life expectancy," Ouelette told CTV. "It's just a case of managing the discomfort and being comfortable. Well, it's just kind of important to enjoy life, and what I've got."
His mother-in-law, Brenda Mackin, said the family has coped with his diagnosis knowing that with his medication, "at least his pain is looked after."
Sandoz Canada announced last month that it would be cancelling production of some drugs and slowing production of others on the heels of a warning letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about safety procedures at the company's Quebec plant.
The letter is dated Nov. 18, and was sent to parent company Novartis International AG. It says that after inspections at plants in the U.S. and the plant in Boucherville, Que., FDA investigators "identified significant violations" of regulations governing pharmaceuticals.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq expressed disappointment that the company only began notifying customers about the production slow-down in February, despite receiving the FDA's letter three months before.
"We are very disappointed with Sandoz," Aglukkaq said. "They should not have withheld information to the provinces and territories and for as long as it did."
Another blow came a few days ago when part of the Boucherville facility caught fire, which led to a complete halt in production.
While the company addresses the problems, the threat of a massive shortage persists.
Dr. Rakesh Patel of the Ottawa Hospital says Gravol is now on back order.
"This is a day-to-day situation, a very fluid situation," Patel told CTV. "It may be we have to stop some of the services we apply at the Ottawa Hospital."
With a report from CTV's Daniele Hamamdjian