More than 250 drugs remain in short supply
Published Friday, October 19, 2012 10:01PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, October 20, 2012 12:05AM EDT
More than 250 drugs remain in short supply in Canada, a situation that leaves many patients unexpectedly without their medications.
Last year, under pressure from Ottawa, amid a critical shortage of medications from antibiotics to chemotherapy, drug companies agreed to make information about impending shortages available through such websites as Saskatchewan Drug Information Services, Vendredi PM and Canadian Drug Shortage Database.
But the situation hasn’t changed much, and for some it has worsened.
"This is still a grave problem, impacting patients (and) health workers to do their jobs,” Jeff Morrison of the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association said.
Among the medications in short supply is the epilepsy drug Zarontin, which began disappearing from Canadian pharmacies two years ago.
Epilepsy patient Karen Reeves of Waterloo, Ont., found Zarontin controlled her seizures. When the drug became scarce she tried other epilepsy medications, which were ineffective, and one seemed to affect her eyesight.
So she began travelling to Florida to buy the drug. She ended up selling her home this August to finance the $8,000 a year in travel expenses.
"I have to weigh the cost against if I don't take this I can die,” she told CTV News. “It is the difference between life and death.”
Vancouver resident Christine Sorensen also found herself travelling to the United States to buy Zarontin for her 14-year-old son Derek after being told the drug wasn’t available in Canada.
She says it was the only medication that kept his seizures in check.
“I was shocked,” Sorensen told CTV News. “What do you mean you can’t get this medication? This is a child who needs this to live. If he doesn’t he may have a seizure and die.”
Sorensen would therefore bring supplies of the drug in from Seattle.
“It felt like we were doing smoothing wrong to go to the U.S. to get a drug that was available in Canada,” she said.
A few days ago, she received an email from the makers of Zarontin, Erfa, saying the drug would resume production. She now has a 60-day supply but no guarantees it will continue.
According to Morrison, while the drug shortage story has dropped off the front pages, it remains an ongoing concern.
“The bad news is that people are having to go to extremes like this. The shortages are leading to a lot of distress and frustration among patients,” he said.
The reason for the drug’s shortage in Canada is unclear. Last year there were shortages of other medications to control seizures, such as dilantin and carbamazepine.
"One of the potential explanations has been that drugs that have low profit margins that are not expensive, those are the ones we are seeing in short supply,” Suzane Nurse of Canadian Epilepsy Alliance said.
Yet some of the hard-to-find medications in Canada are readily available in the United States.
“There is very little information for people to figure out what is going on or what they should do,” Nurse said.
Some patients say there is a need to implement laws to ensure that when companies are allowed to start selling a drug they agree to ensure a steady supply for those whose lives rely on it.
Late last the federal health minister released the government’s response to a report on drug shortages from June. But it didn’t include any concrete plans to force manufactures to provide six months’ advance notice of discontinuation of a drug from the current 30 days’ notice as was recommended.
With a report from CTV News medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip