Pharmacists frustrated over medicine shortages

Central Alberta pharmacists are increasingly frustrated over a sweeping shortage of some common medications.

The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy pharmacist Kevin Bredo takes stock of his supply in his pharmacy on Ross Street on the East hill in Red Deer.

The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy pharmacist Kevin Bredo takes stock of his supply in his pharmacy on Ross Street on the East hill in Red Deer.

Central Alberta pharmacists are increasingly frustrated over a sweeping shortage of some common medications.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association revealed in a report published this week that drug shortages are becoming a serious problem for Canadians — health care is suffering and patients are losing trust in the drug supply.

A survey of 427 pharmacists conducted in October showed 81 per cent of them had trouble finding a medication during their last shift; 93 per cent had trouble finding medication over the past week.

Some of the drugs in short supply over several months are antibiotics, and anti-nausea and heart medications. They include the anti-depressant known as Amitriptyline, antibiotic Cephalexin, and anti-nausea drug Metoclopramide.

Several pharmacies across the region say they are growing frustrated by short supplies of certain prescription drugs. They either have these medications on back order or they must get the doctor to prescribe something different.

Becky Perrin, pharmacy manager of Sproule’s Mountview IDA Drug in Red Deer, said they are experiencing shortages similar to those elsewhere in Canada. “We’re either having to search around to find some that are available or to contact the physician and get them to change the medication to a different alternative that is available.”

Perrin said these shortages have been happening all year but they come and go. Penicillin is still unavailable, she added.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” she said.

“So far, at our store, we’ve always been able to change it to something or track down a medication.”

Dr. Wayne Church, head of the Department of Family Practice at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, has experienced slightly more instances of drug shortages through his practice, but it’s not been a general class of medications. It’s been here and there, he said.

“I don’t feel my patients have been seriously inconvenienced — they’ve certainly not been put at risk by some of the changes we’ve had to make or some of the substitutions that had to occur to give them their medication.”

During meetings held in the fall, the Canadian Pharmacists Association asked manufacturers, distributors and government why these shortages were occurring. Among the more commonly suggested reasons were: shortages of raw materials; more stringent regulatory rules; manufacturing glitches; and the monopolization of a particular drug by one or two manufacturers.

The shortages are more widespread and more prolonged than in 2004, the last time the association held a similar survey.

Scott Savage, owner of Savage Value Drug Mart in Stettler, said he finds the shortages frustrating, especially when some patients have been on certain medications for a long time. In some cases, there are no other specific alternatives so he must scramble to find some kind of medication that would work.

Pharmacists and doctors are spending a lot of time and effort tracking down medications, he said. Plus, patients are frustrated. This has been going on for about 18 months, Savage said.

“I never thought I’d ever see the day where you can’t get penicillin,” said Savage, adding it’s been tough sometimes to get Cephalexin over the last year.

Kevin Bredo, owner of The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Red Deer, said pharmacists have been struggling to make sure patients’ needs are met.

He’s seen a wide spectrum of medications that haven’t been readily available, but he believes that some shortages have waned over the last month or two.

“With a lot of these, they are long-term back orders,” said Bredo. “I know penicillin has been on back order for a while, so it’s kind of pointless to phone around because many pharmacies are out of them or on back order as well.”

Some medications can be made by getting the drug in powder form and then putting it in a capsule, Bredo said.

The pharmacists association said that there is no one silver bullet to alleviate drug shortages, other than governments, pharmacists, manufacturers and other partners working more closely.

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com