Drug shortages a daily concern for Hay River pharmacist

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In recent years, pharmacists have been dealing with shortages of drugs – in Hay River and around the world – and the situation is getting worse.

That’s according to Julianne Fuller, a pharmacist at Ring’s Pharmacy in Hay River.

“There’s an increase in drug shortages in Canada, and it’s a growing concern because we don’t want it to interfere with or jeopardize the health of Canadians,” she said.

Julianne Fuller – a pharmacist at Ring’s Pharmacy in Hay River – deals daily with the problem of drug shortages, which is a local, national and global issue.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Fuller explained the shortages are generally due to recalls because of manufacturing problems – often impurities in the raw materials – along with supply, contracting or distribution issues.

The problems are nothing new.

“Recalls have existed forever as part of our profession,” said Fuller. “They’ve just dramatically increased over the last three to five years.”

She doesn’t see the situation getting better in the near future, and thinks it may get worse.

The pharmacist noted recalls affect some drugs more than others, and can vary in size.

“A recall can be small and include just one company, or one set of lots or one issue that came up specific to a company or product, and then issues can be global where there’s a short supply or a contaminated raw material,” she said.

Most raw materials for drugs come from China or India, and companies in Canada use that to formulate a tablet, capsule or liquid product.

Fuller noted that Health Canada has a listing of about two thousand drug recalls.

“The biggest one that the public would know about might be ranitidine or Zantac, a medication used for the stomach,” she noted, explaining it is for acid suppression. “That was recalled from the Canadian market for all brands that make it due to an impurity in the raw material.”

Another notable recall last year was a blood pressure drug called valsartan, also because of impurities.

According to the Health Canada website, the federal department recognizes the negative impact of drug shortages on patients, health care professionals and the health care system, and is working throughout the supply chain to better prevent, mitigate and communicate about shortages.

“A drug shortage is a situation in which an authorization holder for a drug is unable to meet the demand for the drug,” explains Health Canada. “Drug shortages can include temporary disruptions or permanent discontinuances in the production and supply of a drug.

“Drug shortages are a complex, global problem. They might arise from any number of possible causes, including production issues, sole source contracting, unexpected surges in demand for a drug, and difficulty accessing raw materials.”

Fuller noted people often come looking for a drug that is not available.

“Then we need to source a drug or drugs that are in a similar family to change them to that, and we would supply that information,” she said, noting if an alternate drug is only available by prescription, the change would have to be done in consultation with a prescriber.

“Currently, we probably deal with and mitigate problems of recalls daily,” she said.

However, Fuller said she is not aware of any patient in Hay River who did not have a drug or an alternative unavailable because of the shortages.

“So far the recalls haven’t interrupted patient care,” she said.

If people have concerns about the availability of certain drugs, Fuller suggested they talk to their prescribers or pharmacists.

She would like to see the federal government put more focus on dealing with drug shortages.

“It’s ongoing and, without the current government addressing the issue, I don’t see it improving any time soon,” Fuller said, noting she would like to see the government put more effort into assessing and securing the supply of raw material.

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