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Reporting of drug shortages to be made mandatory

A decision by Health Canada mandating drug manufacturers to report drug shortages, has been applauded by the Canadian Medical Association.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced plans to establish an independent third-party website “for companies to provide timely, comprehensive and reliable information to Canadians on anticipated and actual drug shortages. The website will also provide information on multi-stakeholder efforts to address actual shortages, and provide tools to ensure Canadians can access the information they need.”

Ambrose also announced a Public Notification Register on Health Canada’s website that will list all the manufacturers that have committed to providing voluntary public notification of shortages, and includes public letters to companies that fail to live up to these expectations. Until the mandatory system is up and running, manufacturers are expected to continue voluntarily posting information on all shortages on the industry-run website, www.drugshortages.ca.

The CMA and its specialty affiliate organizations have taken a leadership role in calling for resolution of drug shortages since such shortages were highlighted in 2010. Many specialty groups believe the shortages of prescription drugs in Canada are so severe that they are having an impact on the delivery of appropriate patient care.

CMA President Chris Simpson applauded the announcement stating “the CMA commends the federal government for today’s commitment ... This reporting framework is a welcome and necessary step to communicating the persistent shortages of prescription medication in recent years, shortages which have serious consequences for patient care.”

In 2013, the CMA adopted a policy on drug shortages stating “the escalation in shortages of prescription drugs in the past few years and the ongoing disruptions to supply experienced in Canada and globally are matters of grave concern to the CMA and its members.

“Drug shortages are having a detrimental impact on the delivery of patient care and treatment and the availability of health care services across the country,” the statement continued.

In that document, the CMA advocated a number of steps to address the issue, including establishment of a legislative framework requiring pharmaceutical companies to provide advance notice of production stoppages and any forecast disruptions in the drug supply.

In the wake of the government announcement, the CMA said other steps outlined in its policy document should be carried out such as further investigation into the underlying causes of drug shortages and the development of mitigation strategies to reduce shortages and their impact on patient health and patient care.

A survey conducted by the CMA, Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) and Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists in October, 2013 indicated shortages were “a significant problem.”

That survey found:

  • 66% of MDs report drug shortages have worsened since 2010
  • 47% of doctors said patient visits are growing longer as MDs seek appropriate drugs to substitute for those in short supply
  • 67% of physicians reported they are spending more time researching and consulting as they seek alternatives to drugs in short supply

Last June, Health Canada Health Canada sought input from Canadian physicians and members of the public on the current approach to notifications about the shortages.

There are currently more than 700 drugs listed on www.drugshortages.ca documenting the shortages.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.