Ottawa offers to release emergency meds

TORONTO — The federal government has offered to dip into its emergency supply of medications to help ease the ongoing drug shortage created by production problems at Sandoz Canada.

TORONTO — The federal government has offered to dip into its emergency supply of medications to help ease the ongoing drug shortage created by production problems at Sandoz Canada.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has told provinces and territories it is willing to open up some of its holdings in the National Emergency Stockpile System to help alleviate demand for drugs that are in short supply.

“The National Emergency Stockpile System (NESS) maintains a limited supply of select drugs for surge capacity to supplement the extraordinary needs of provinces and territories in times of emergency,” Health Canada spokesman Stephane Shank said Sunday by email.

These include morphine, anesthetic drugs and antibiotics. Sandoz supplies the majority of injectable medications in Canada — among them painkillers, anti-nausea drugs and antibiotics — and is the sole supplier of a large number of these agents.

NESS could provide, for example, such necessary medications as morphine and anesthetics for 500 Canadians on ventilators for a period of one week, Shank said in an interview from Ottawa.

“PHAC and the provinces and territories have agreed upon a process and criteria by which they may be able to access these drugs should the provinces and territories again find themselves facing shortages as a result of production problems at Sandoz,” he said.

So far, no jurisdictions have taken the federal agency up on the offer, which was made about 10 days ago.

The number of drugs kept in the emergency stockpile and where they are kept is confidential, he said.

The federal agency decided to crack open its emergency supply “to be proactive” in trying to help provinces and territories deal with the worsening drug shortage, which became more critical last month when Sandoz cut production of many of its products.

The company was responding to concerns raised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about production standards at its plant in Boucherville, Que. A fire in the plant March 4 further set back production, worsening the shortfall in drug supplies across the country.

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