Drug shortages have “greatly increased” in the last three to five years causing patient confusion and distress, according to a survey of Canadian pharmacists.

Of more than 1,700 pharmacists asked by the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the vast majority or 79 per cent, indicated that shortages have “greatly increased.”

Managing shortages has become a time-consuming and unwelcome part of pharmacists’ daily practice, the CPA said, that can occupy up to 20 per cent of their shift or up to two hours of a 10-hour work day.

“While drug shortages are an unfortunate daily reality for patients and pharmacists, the scale and number of shortages and recalls that we have seen over the past year have resulted in patient confusion and distress, and placed an important spotlight on some of the gaps and challenges in Canada’s drug supply,” said Barry Power, senior director for digital content at the CPA.

From alerting prescribers and identifying alternative medications to inquiring about stock with wholesalers and other suppliers, dealing with drug shortages is taking valuable time away from delivering health care services, the CPA said in a statement.

“While we continue to be concerned about the growing number of drug shortages in Canada over the past few years, and the stress they place on patients and pharmacists, we now worry about the potential impact U.S. drug importation legislation could have,” Power added.

“With over 20 pieces of legislation at the state and federal levels, the biggest risk for Canadians is exacerbating drug shortages – our drug supply simply is not equipped to supply a country 10 times our size.”

The association has called on the federal government to provide more support for pharmacists to address the shortages.

This includes research into the root causes of the shortages, calling together an international taskforce to implement solutions and better support for frontline health care providers.

“We call upon the Government of Canada to clearly articulate its position regarding the exportation of Canadian medications to other countries, and put measures in place to protect our drug supply from the impact of U.S importation legislation,” the CPA said in a statement.

Concern about drug shortages is felt by a majority of Canadians (68%), particularly those over 60, the CPA said.

According to a national survey conducted by Abacus Data last year, one in four Canadians have experienced or know someone who has experienced a drug shortage in the last three years.