The Conservatives are calling on the federal government to allow the importation and sale of foreign language-labelled versions of the same formulations of over-the-counter paediatric pain medication, in response to an ongoing nationwide shortage.
In a letter to Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Conservative MPs suggested the move as a way to alleviate parents’ anxieties about being able to find the pain and fever medications they need if their children are sick.
“As cold and flu season is already underway, many parents are unable to locate and purchase this most basic of children’s medication,” reads the letter, jointly signed by Conservative MPs Michael Barrett, Stephen Ellis, Mike Lake, and Laila Goodridge. “The need for these important products is urgent and growing by the day… The solution we have proposed will alleviate the problem rather than tasking pharmacists to compound paediatric medications from adult ones.”
In the letter, the MPs note a similar step was taken in May 2020, to allow for the importation and sale of Spanish-labelled Salbutamol Aldo-Union inhalers, due to a shortage of Canadian-labelled products.
In addition to the letter, Barrett has given notice of a motion to be debated and voted on at the House of Commons Health Committee, calling for that panel of MPs to recommend the federal government move on the Conservatives’ recommendation.
Speaking with reporters on Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Barrett said should the language compliance rules be changed to allow for these medications to be imported from abroad, Health Canada should also provide guidelines to doctors and pharmacists on how to administer them.
“Because while we hear that, we’re just on the verge of this issue being resolved. We need to see some action, and moms and dads across the country really need the minister to take that step,” Barrett said. “If we’ve learned any lessons over the last two and a half years, that’s that we can turn on a dime if we wish to.”
In August, Health Canada confirmed a summer shortage of children’s pain relief medications across the country, though in Quebec for example, drugstores have reported experiencing a lack of supply in the aftermath of the spring wave of COVID-19 infections.
The scant supply of medications, including liquid Children’s Tylenol and chewable acetaminophen tablets, being reported across Canada has been attributed to a combination of supply chain issues similar to those that affected the availability of other medications through the pandemic, as well as heightened consumer demands due to what drug makers have called an “unprecedented” Canadian cold and flu season.
The shortage has prompted children’s hospitals and pharmacists to issue warnings and implore parents not to hoard, as parents go to great lengths to secure what they can.
The CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association has said that while manufacturers are ramping up their production lines to meet demands, it could still take until mid to late fall for the situation to improve.
“It is very stressful for families when their child is uncomfortable, if they have fever, if they’re not feeling their best, and they can’t access the medication that they know would make their child feel better. So it’s causing a lot of anxiety and stress for families,” said Dr. Dina Kulik, pediatrician and founder of Kidcrew Medical, in an interview on CTV News Channel on Wednesday.
Asked about the shortage of medications during a scrum on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, Duclos said Health Canada is “obviously concerned about the supply of this essential medicine” and officials are in touch with manufacturers, pharmacists, as well as provinces and territories about the issue. However, he could not offer any information on how long the shortages may last.
“Let’s be very clear. The situation is under relative control. No one needs to, you know, be so afraid as to rush and accumulate tons of drugs and medicines,” Duclos said, when asked about whether the government should be mobilizing a pandemic-era response to access these medications.
“Our system in Canada is a very solid one, supported by appropriate regulatory and monitoring activities within the federal government… This being said, we – and I have shared that very clearly with Health Canada – we need to be in touch with provinces and territories to see how they can use their own network, because they are the ones with physicians and pharmacists that have the greatest control,” said the federal health minister.
Responding to CTVNews.ca’s request for comment on the Conservatives’ proposal, Duclos’ office said in an email on Wednesday Health Canada “has reiterated to all manufacturers its openness to discuss mitigation options and to explore all opportunities to expedite or increase supplies, including reviewing proposals that may require regulatory flexibility or consideration of foreign supply.”
With files from CTV News’ Jennifer Ferreira and Olivia Bowden