Alberta government sources children’s pain medication to ease supply woes

Alberta government sources children’s pain medication to ease supply woes

The Alberta government says it has found a supply of five million bottles of children’s pain and fever medication from a Turkish manufacturer.

As pharmacy shelves sit empty and pharmacists guard their limited supply of children’s Tylenol and Advil, Premier Danielle Smith announced Tuesday that she hopes a cache of medication is soon on its way.

“Many families are feeling overwhelmed, dealing with, especially, fevers, coughs and other issues with their kids,” Smith said from a Shoppers Drug Mart in downtown Edmonton.

“It’s one more thing parents have to worry about. And it’s yet another pressure placed on our strained public health-care system.”

Health Minister Jason Copping said Alberta would be willing to share the supply with other provinces once it arrives.

He also said Alberta will need at least 500,000 bottles for the rest of this respiratory illness season, but expects demand for the product to continue year round.

For months, Canada has been hit with a shortage of ibuprofen and acetaminophen sold in liquid and chewable pill formats in dosages for children younger than 12.

The scarcity hit just as waves of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, COVID-19 and other respiratory infections are causing widespread and sometimes serious illness among children.

Some pharmacies have been able to compound children’s formulations for customers but that takes additional time.

Ghada Haggag, a parent, pharmacist, and manager of All Care Pharmacy in Edmonton, says she was relieved to hear the province has found an additional source of the medicines.

“We are so happy, but I’m going to be more happy when I see it on hand and people feel more comfortable,” she said.

Edmonton pharmacist Ghada Haggag has a limited supply in her pharmacy of children’s pain relievers such as pediatric Advil and Tylenol. She’s happy to see the provincial government find another potential source of the medications. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The pharmacy phone rings 10 to 15 times a day with parents looking for a source of children’s pain relievers, antibiotics, cough medication and stomach remedies, Haggag said.

“It’s all about the demand,” she said. “Because we never use this amount of kids’ cold and flu symptoms or the kids cold and flu medication.”

In a news release, the government said it will order five million bottles of medication from Istanbul-based Atabay Pharmaceuticals and Fine Chemicals. 

Approval from Health Canada needed

Any manufacturer or authority seeking to procure foreign medicines must get authorization from Health Canada.

In a statement Wednesday, Health Canada said it has met with Alberta officials and provided information on the steps required for “exceptional importation” of foreign products.

The federal health ministry said it needs to determine that the products are manufactured to standards comparable to the Canadian authorized product and in line with Canada’s quality, safety and efficacy requirements.

Health Canada must also ensure that the Canadian importer has a drug establishment licence.

“Additionally, to ensure parents and caregivers clearly understand what medication they are giving their children, all necessary information related to cautions and warnings, dosing directions, and ingredients needs to be available in English and French,” Health Canada said.

It’s unclear how long it could take the federal government to approve the new source of medicine, and when the products might hit store shelves.

Shivali Sharma is a pharmacist and owner of three Edmonton Shoppers Drug Mart franchises.

In late November, the Canadian government managed to procure about a million bottles of children’s Tylenol so Sharma does have some supply. She keeps it behind the counter of her downtown pharmacy to prevent shoppers from hoarding or bulk-buying the products, saving it for parents with sick kids.

Sharma wants to know what provincial and federal governments are doing to secure a longer-term supply.

“We don’t have any certainty about when the next shipment is coming in and what that quantity is going to look like,” she said.

Preventing illness

While doctors are calling on the government to take more steps to prevent the spread of the diseases making children ill, Premier Smith said finding a new source of children’s medication is a preventative step.

She also refused to directly answer a question about why Alberta’s interim chief medical officer of health, Dr. Mark Joffe, isn’t holding news conferences to update the public as has been customary during other outbreaks.

NDP MLA and health critic David Shepherd told reporters at the legislature the premier is putting her political ideology and preferences ahead of children’s wellbeing.

“We’ve seen no indication that they take this crisis seriously,” Shepherd said of the government. “We’re hearing from parents, we’re hearing from staff at the Alberta Children’s hospital, who are despairing.”

Shepherd wants the government to appoint an independent panel of public health experts to advise the province and who can speak publicly about their evidence-based recommendations.

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