Ongoing problem of drug shortages frustrates patients
Five years into an ongoing drug shortage in Canada and the problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better. In fact, with some classes of medication it’s worsening, say patient advocates.
Drug shortages can be life-threatening for patients such as Julian Cole. The 24-year-old from Whitby, Ont., has epilepsy along with autism and other health issues, and relies on medications to control his debilitating seizures.
But for weeks now, his mother Dot Cole has not been able to find a single pharmacy anywhere in Canada with supplies of 500-milligram pills of APO-Divalproex, a generic form of Epival made by Apotex.
Some hospitals in Canada are running out of the drug as well, and advocates say finding supplies of the drug has become difficult for pharmacies and hospitals across the country.
Cole currently has only a few weeks’ worth of medication. After that runs out, the Coles don’t know what they’ll do. Julian can't easily switch medications because that causes seizures too.
“This is his life we are talking about. This is not a casual over-the-counter pill; this is my son's life,” Dot Cole told CTV News.
She says there have been several shortages of the drug in recent years, but even after one gets fixed and she gets a new supply of drugs, it’s followed by an even longer shortage.
“It was a month, a month-and-a-half that we had to wait, and now, it is six or seven months. It keeps going longer and longer,” she says.
“How do we stop this? I can't change my son's medical needs. I can't change his allergies. I can't change his medications. We have tried all the medications and this is the only one that has worked.”
Cole says there has to be a solution, and both the government and the drug companies have to find ways to end the shortages and get her family the medications they need.
Six anti-seizure drugs made by Apotex are currently listed as in short supply on DrugShortages.ca. So are hundreds of other medications.
Earlier this week, the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance issued a public call to drug manufacturers to explain what is causing the shortages, noting they are increasing in frequency and length without explanation.
CTV News requested a statement from Apotex but didn't receive a response. The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association said in an email statement that the root causes of drug shortages are “complex and influenced by both domestic and global factors.”
It said “the specific reasons may vary and can be more than one. The most common causes for drug shortages are availability of active ingredients, manufacturing issues, regulatory issues and marketplace issues.”
It added that it reports all shortages on the DrugShortages.ca website as required by the federal government.
Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, who studies and teaches the history of medicine at Queens University in Kingston, Ont., is also hearing from doctors and patients worried about the shortages on her website.
She says the shortages affect just about every category of drug and yet nothing has been done over the last five years to resolve the problem. She wonders what it will take to spark action.
“It’s been very hard to get people to pay attention to the issue until we face a crisis. And we are lurching from one crisis to another without going behind all these crises and connecting the dots between them and finding out what really is wrong.”
As for Dot Cole, recently she found out that their pharmacist can’t refill another anti-seizure medication, levetiracetam -- a product manufactured by Apotex. She is still hoping some pharmacy somewhere in Canada has the medication her son needs, so she can buy time until the larger issue of why drugs suddenly disappear is resolved.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip