Nfld. & Labrador

Health authorities working to deal with shortage of drug for breast cancer treatment

A contingency plan is currently being developed by Eastern Health and regional provincial authorities to deal with a Canada-wide shortage of a drug commonly used to treat breast cancer.

Health Canada working with companies to increase production by January 2020

People who have been prescribed Tamoxifen are being contacted via registered email, Eastern Health says. (The Associated Press)

Geoff Eaton fought cancer twice and lived to tell the tale. It's one of hardship, he says, with the stress and pain of chemotherapy often consuming a patient's energy.

That's why he knows a looming drug shortage will take its toll on patients.

"It's significant to hear news like that, that you think might affect your treatment and, thus, then the outcome," Eaton, a cancer care advocate, told CBC News.

A contingency plan is currently being developed by Eastern Health and regional provincial authorities to deal with the shortage.

Breast cancer patients across the country using Tamoxifen are being notified of the shortage, said Melanie Seal, an oncologist with Eastern Health.

Health Canada has identified a shortage of the oral, anti-estrogen drug most commonly given as part of hormonal therapy. The drug is also used to treat other conditions.

Eastern Health said officials don't know when the drug will become available. Health Canada is working with companies to increase production by January 2020.

Geoff Eaton, a two-time cancer survivor, says he doesn't know why drugs in such high demand aren't available for months at a time. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

In the meantime, officials with the provincial cancer care program are working with the Pharmacists' Association of N.L., the Department of Health and Eastern Health to come up with a contingency plan.

Those unable to get a refill on the prescription are being advised to call their local pharmacy to see if the pharmacist can get the drug from a neighbouring pharmacy.

If the drug can't be obtained, patients are asked to get in touch with the Cancer Care Centre at 1-844-923-1336, Monday to Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. NT.

"Patients remain our top priority during this drug shortage and we will take all necessary measures to ensure they continue to receive high-quality care," Eastern Health said in the release.

The health authority says 400 patients in Newfoundland and Labrador have received Tamoxifen in the last 12 months.

Eaton expressed confusion over the frequency of shortages across the country, which range from blood pressure medications to antibiotics — and everything in between.

"I don't understand why we can have such reliable indicators of demand, which we do, yet we struggle on the supply side," he said.

"It doesn't make sense to me."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn

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