Children's medication en route to Alberta, but pharmacies say shortage has passed

A plane carrying 250,000 bottles of children’s pain relief medication from Turkey should arrive in Edmonton today, destined for hospitals, the provincial government says.

Still no Health Canada approval for selling Turkish supply of medication in pharmacies

Ghada Haggag, who owns All Care Pharmacy in Edmonton, says the scramble to find children's pain and fever medication is no longer urgent. (Stephen Cook/CBC)

A plane carrying 250,000 bottles of children's pain and fever relief medication from Turkey should arrive in Edmonton today, destined for hospitals, the provincial government says.

However, there's still no word on when Health Canada will approve a cache of medication Alberta procured for sale in pharmacies, according to Steve Buick, the health minister's press secretary.

"The final requirement for child-proof caps has been addressed and we are awaiting Health Canada approval of the remainder of the 4.75 million bottles" to sell in pharmacies, Buick said in an email Tuesday.

In December, Premier Danielle Smith announced the province was ordering five million bottles of children's medicines from Atabay Pharmaceuticals in Turkey.

Buick said kids and families are waiting for the medications, and the province needs Health Canada to approve their use in pharmacies without further delay.

However, Edmonton pharmacies CBC News contacted this week had children's formulations of both ibuprofen and acetaminophen in stock.

Ghada Haggag, a pharmacist who owns All Care Pharmacy in Capilano, said parents are no longer going on exhaustive searches to find the medicine.

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)

She had 10 bottles of formulations for different age groups on the shelves of her small pharmacy on Tuesday morning.

"It is way better than November or December," she said. "It's slowed down. Because the stock is everywhere now."

Haggag says she's not always receiving as many bottles as she tries to order, but she's been getting enough to keep up with demand.

In the west end, Edmonton Pharmacy manager Darryl Mah said his store has enough of the medication to return most of it to the shelves. Some pharmacists had been keeping it behind the counter to prevent hoarding.

Customers are not as overjoyed when they find a bottle now, he said — the panic has subsided.

At a news conference last month, Health Minister Jason Copping said Alberta consumers buy about 500,000 bottles of the medication each year.

Mah said the imported medicine will be helpful. Children's medications come in different doses and formulations, such as liquids or chewable tablets.

"If there's more variety, then it just helps with children being able to take the medication," Mah said.

Buick did not answer a question about when the Turkish-made medication expires.

Pharmacists say products on their shelves today expire in about two to three years.

Cost of Alberta order still unknown

Buick said Alberta paid a "small premium over the expected retail price" to fulfil the order when demand was high.

He said the government will release the cost after Health Canada approves the bottles of paracetamol — which is acetaminophen — for sale.

The federal government has also sourced children's medication from other countries to help ease the shortage.

Haggag said she thinks the worst of the scarcity may have passed.

"We don't need it," she said of the Turkish drug shipment. "We don't need to pay extra for it or to push for it. I don't think there is an urgent demand for it now."

Aidan Hollis, a University of Calgary economics professor who researches competition and innovation in pharmaceutical markets, said that before making the purchase, the province should have consulted with Health Canada about regulatory timelines and talked to private wholesale importers about their supply.

Hollis said the province will also have to set a sale price for the medication, which may be tricky, because consumers may not be as eager to buy a product they don't know.

"If I'm a pharmacy [manager] today, and I can just buy regular children's Tylenol from the manufacturer, or manufacturers that are well known to me, then I really kind of look at this alternative source with a degree of suspicion," he said. "I'm going to be asking, 'Am I going to be able to sell this to my customers?'"

Hollis said the province will likely "take a bit of a bath" on the cost of buying so much of the product.

"Which means the taxpayers of Alberta will be the ones paying the price," he said.


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.