Aristospan delays painful for kids with arthritis

Doctors and patients in Nova Scotia say they’re frustrated by difficulties obtaining the drug Aristospan, an arthritis drugs for children that can help soothe joint inflammation.

Simple injection can manage pain

Emily Bessey watches as her class gets ready for a school performance. She's a typical 11-year-old girl, except sometimes her arthritis acts up. (CBC)

Doctors and patients in Nova Scotia say they’re frustrated by difficulties obtaining Aristospan, an arthritis drug for children that can help soothe joint inflammation.

Emily Bessey, 11, is working hard to get ready for a school performance, but sometimes the pain of her arthritis creeps in.

"It's not very fun when it starts acting up a little bit,” she said.

Emily says arthritis medicine can make a big difference.

“I got some needles done around my knee and I took some meds and it kind of helped the swelling go down on my knee. It helped it hurt a little bit less,” she said.

One of the injections Emily received is called Aristospan.

It used to be widely available in Canada, but not any more. Her doctor says it can take weeks to import it from the United States, leading to painful delays.

“Ultimately there's a delay in care for that patient, because they will have to suffer with ongoing pain and swelling in that joint while they wait for their joint injection,” said Dr. Suzanne Ramsey.

She says the drug helps joint inflammation and can put the disease into remission. Time off the drug can spark joint inflammation leading to long-term damage.

The Arthritis Society of Nova Scotia says it's a difficult situation.

“It's extremely frustrating. Especially when you know that there are drugs that are inexpensive that can help people in this case, particularly children," said Susan Tilley-Russell, the group's executive director in the Maritimes.

The Arthritis Society estimates about 24,000 Canadian children aged 18 and under have some form of arthritis. About 2,000 live in the Maritimes.

Emily says she feels for kids who can't get the drug they need.

“I feel very bad for them. Because they have a lot of pain and they can't get the medication they need to help the pain go away,” she said.

Valeo Pharma, the company that's licensed to sell Aristospan in Canada, says it's having trouble finding a manufacturer to revive the drug.

It has a licence to sell the drug, but not to make it.

“We're trying different avenues to find a new source for the product. We want to bring the product back, just like everybody else wants us to bring it back,” said spokesman Marc Leger.

The drug company can't say how long it might take to get Aristospan back on the market.

Health Canada hasn't responded yet to a request for comment.