Pharmacists say the impact of a current Canada-wide Ritalin drug shortage could have been reduced if Health Canada took a tougher stance on pharmaceutical companies.

The current shortage affects 10 milligram doses of the brand name medication Ritalin, which is made by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, as well as the generic form of methylphenidate hydrochloride.

Ritalin, a stimulant, is commonly prescribed to help treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The shortage is listed on drugshortages.ca, a website backed by Health Canada, where drug makers can voluntarily post shortage information.

According to the online database, the shortage is expected to last 37 days. The shortage is blamed on an "unexpected increase in demand caused by Gx [generic drug] back order."

Could have been imported

According to Diane Lamarre, the president of the Quebec Order of Pharmacists, Health Canada needs to change its policies to prevent something like this from happening again.

Health Canada does not currently require pharmaceutical companies to report drug shortages, although drug makers may opt to voluntarily alert doctors and pharmacists. 

Lamarre said that makes it difficult for pharmacists to deal with shortages.

“It’s a problem. It’s difficult to evaluate clearly," she said.

"When there are drug shortages we may have time to import it from other countries … but each week, each day is important in terms of having time to import this medication.”

For now, Lamarre says patients who use Ritalin will have to rely on alternatives by doubling smaller doses or using long-acting versions of their medication.

Lamarre adds that while using alternative medication might not be ideal, patients have few options.

“It might not suit a child perfectly. Medication choice should be tailored.”

She said patients can ask for a doubled 5-milligram dose, although she warns that supplies could soon run out for that as well.