03/07/2012 03:26 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Drug shortage could affect elective surgeries

A shortage of injectable painkillers may eventually force some elective surgeries to be postponed, the B.C. government is warning, but plans are in place to manage and share the available supply.

Sandoz Canada, which manufactures the drugs that are used to treat moderate to severe pain after surgery and in cancer patients, has stopped producing the drugs for operational reasons.

That is expected to create a shortage of drugs such as morphine, hydromorphone and fentanyl for up to 18 months, according to B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong.

Provincial and federal health officials are working together to ensure all hospitals share stocks when necessary and use oral versions when appropriate, he said.

"At this time, there has been no known effect on patient care. However, if stocks continue to decrease, elective procedures may have to be rescheduled at some locations; health authorities have not yet had to make any such decisions," said a statement issued by health officials.

Palliative care patients, emergencies and those requiring life-saving procedures will be given top priority for these drugs, de Jong said in statement issued Wednesday.

Last month, Sandoz announced it was scaling back production of certain drugs at its Quebec plant — mostly painkillers, antibiotics and anesthetics — to upgrade operations after quality-control assessments by the FDA warned the factory fell short of its standards.

To exacerbate supply concerns, a fire Sunday in the ceiling above the boiler room of Sandoz's Boucherville plant halted all production until at least Monday, and the company says it is assessing any impact to product supply.