Most Canadians are concerned about drug shortages, according to a new survey, and industry experts suggest their concerns are warranted.

The recent survey of 1,500 Canadian adults by Abacus Data found that 69 per cent of respondents were worried about the shortages, particularly those who were older, less wealthy and less educated.

The survey, commissioned by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, found that Canadians trust pharmacists to provide alternate drug options during a shortage. But identifying an alternate during a shortage isn’t always simple and could lead to unexpected side-effects or interfere with allergies, according to Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, professor emerita at Queens University and founder of

“We don’t really have a good list of substitute drugs,” she told CTV News Channel on Monday. “There’s a scramble that takes place. It’s very time consuming and it’s anxiety creating for everybody involved.”

The scramble is happening all over the country, where there is a shortage of nearly 1,700 medications, according to the government’s drug-tracking website.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Duffin. “We’ve been seeing dreadful shortages since about 2010.”

The shortages affect mostly generic drugs, but not exclusively: drugs for the cardiovascular system that treat blood pressure and help prevent heart failure; drugs for neurological conditions and dermatologic conditions; pain killers of all types; and, even drugs used in chemotherapy for cancer.

The reasons for the shortages are not always simple to pin down, said Duffin, because there is a dearth of information.

“There’s not enough accountability or transparency in the system for us to know,” she said. So instead experts identify clusters of causes: sometimes manufacturing causes within a factory, or marketing causes when a drug becomes too expensive to produce, for example.

“One (factor) is it gets too expensive to make it, another is that competition has driven the price down too low that there’s no money to be earned in making it,” she said. “The problem is that many of the drugs that go into short supply have only one manufacturer, so there isn’t another maker of exactly the same molecule.”

Last year, Canada made it mandatory to give notice when a drug shortage may occur. But often manufacturers don’t know soon enough. If there’s a problem in the factory, or a problem getting raw materials, the notice often seems delayed. Most shortages are declared the week or the day that the shortage occurs.

“Individuals don’t have notice,” she said. “Usually they hear about it when they show up at the pharmacy wanting to renew their prescription and they discover they just can’t get it.”