Drug shortages 'the new reality,' health professionals warn

Stronger regulations and better coordination of resources are needed to stave off future drug shortages, according to the orders representing Quebec's physicians and pharmacists.
The report recommends new laws that would force drug companies to give one year's notice before any voluntary production stoppage. (Canadian Press)

Quebec’s physicians and pharmacists are warning that drug shortages will become more frequent and could have serious consequences for the health of Quebecers. 

A joint committee looking at the issue released several recommendations Monday aimed at easing the consequences of future shortages, including incentives for companies that produce drugs in short supply and the creation of a coordinating body that would manage shortages. 

"There is no question that drugs save lives, and as such, they are an exceptional consumer product," Diane Lamarre, president of Quebec’s order of pharmacists, said in a news release.

"Shortages like the ones we are seeing today are a new reality."

Drug manufacturer Sandoz Canada, one of the country's leading suppliers of generic cancer and heart medications, announced in February it was temporarily suspending production at its Quebec plant after assessments by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned the factory fell short of FDA standards.

A fire at the plant in March further delayed production.

The shut down left physicians and pharmacists scrambling to find replacement therapies to treat certain ailments.

The company started shipping some products again at the end of March, according to its website.

Advance notice, multiple suppliers recommended

The professional orders representing the province’s physicians, pharmacists and pharmacy owners launched  their committee a year ago in light of previous drug shortages. Their collaboration resulted in nine recommendations, released Monday.

The committee urged lawmakers to institute new regulations that would force pharmaceutical companies to give one-year notice in the case of voluntary production stoppages.

It also recommended that manufactures be required to secure several supply sources for raw materials and several manufacturing sites before they are allowed to market an essential drug.

Ensuring that everyone is working together to prevent shortages, before the drugs run dry, is an essential element in minimizing the impact it eventually has on patients, said Dr. Charles Bernard, president of Quebec’s college of physicians.

The committee also echoed a growing list of provinces urging Ottawa to set up a national reporting system and pointed out that, in other jurisdictions, companies can be fined for failing to notify health authorities of a foreseeable shortage.

In March, the Canadian Cancer Society also put forward its own series of recommendations, urging the federal government to introduce new rules to prevent wide spread shortages.

Its recommendations included developing an early warning system and ensuring a list of unavailable drugs is provided by manufacturers.