NDP drug shortage motion gets government's support

The House of Commons unanimously supported a motion from the NDP on Wednesday that would require drug companies to report any planned production disruptions to Health Canada.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is in favour of a voluntary reporting system on drug shortages but on Wednesday did not rule out regulations down the road for a mandatory system. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The House of Commons unanimously supported a motion from the NDP on Wednesday that would require drug companies to report any planned production disruptions to Health Canada.

Conservative MPs, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sided with the NDP and the Liberals when the non-binding motion was put to a vote Wednesday.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq still favours the current voluntary reporting system but her office said it hasn't closed the door on bringing in regulations in the future.

Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for Aglukkaq, said if voluntary reporting doesn't prove to be effective, Health Canada could consider introducing a mandatory system to force companies to keep governments informed.

The motion from the NDP called on the government to develop a nationwide strategy to anticipate and respond to drug shortages, require companies to report planned disruptions in production and expedite the safety reviews of medications.

Drug production interrupted

Aglukkaq successfully moved an amendment, which said companies should not only report to Health Canada but also to the provinces and territories.

The motion followed an emergency debate on drug shortages on Monday that was prompted by an interruption in production at Sandoz Canada's Quebec plant.

The company scaled back its production while it made changes in response to concerns from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Health Canada also inspected the plant, according to Aglukkaq, found it in compliance with its rules and held discussions with Sandoz about how it would address the FDA's concerns.

She said Health Canada was not informed until last month about the scale of Sandoz's cutbacks or its failure to find alternatives for customers before reducing production.

Sandoz is one of the country's leading suppliers of generic cancer and heart medications that are frequently used to treat pain and nausea, particularly after chemotherapy treatments. Shortages of Sandoz's drugs across the country have patients and doctors worried, conserving dwindling supplies and searching for alternatives.

Aglukkaq doesn't rule out regulations

The government supported the motion that calls for required reporting, but Aglukkaq's office said that what form the reporting requirement will take is still a matter of debate. Aglukkaq argues the voluntary system does already require companies to report, but the opposition parties want a mandatory requirement mandatory for all companies, not just the ones participating in the voluntary system.

Even though her office said Health Canada could later consider regulations, Aglukkaq made it clear during debate on the NDP motion that she favours the voluntary system.

A mandatory regime "won't solve the root problem" of drug shortages, Aglukkaq said, adding that it won't change the fact that one company can dominate as much as 95 per cent of the market in a certain drug.

She also said a voluntary system allows for companies to make information available faster.

The health minister said Health Canada's role is to approve drugs, and it's up to the provinces and territories to buy them and distribute them to their patients. Aglukkaq said the provinces don't need the federal government's protection and she has confidence in them to manage their health-care systems.

Minister defends response to shortage

Aglukkaq said she is encouraged by new commitments made by Sandoz to be more transparent and from the pharmaceutical industry to find long-term solutions to drug shortages and she defended her government's reaction to the current shortage.

"The federal government has acted in the interests of Canadians and it is working," Aglukkaq said. "We are keeping all options open. Canadians deserve nothing less," she said.

She said Ottawa will continue to support the provinces as they try to secure alternative drug supplies and noted that today Health Canada gave approval to Aloxi, an alternative injectable drug.

The department is expediting pending applications for approval so that more medications are available as soon as possible. The review process can normally take more than six months but Health Canada is aiming to complete them within weeks.interrupted