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Palliative care providers fear drug shortage

03/13/2012 11:37 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT

There is concern among palliative care providers about a shortage of medication for those people who choose to die in the comfort of their own home.

Dr. Susan Gick visits homes to treat people who have a terminal illness.

Gick says she is concerned about a reduced inventory after Sandoz Canada, the country's leading maker of painkillers, halted production of many drugs for operational upgrades.

Sandoz supplies the palliative care industry with approximately 90 per cent of its medications.

"We are expecting a shortage for sure and I think one of the keys is going to be how to waste as little medication as possible," she told the CBC's Ryan Gibson.

"[We have to] make sure the right people get it at the right time, at the right place."

Many patients choose to die at home, citing familiarity and comfort. Many hospitals and retirement homes are also removing beds and promoting home care.

For Danesh Pande, who has cancer of the oesophagus and receives chemotherapy treatments at home with prescribed painkillers, his doctor means everything.

"Dr Gick has been a steel rod. If she was not there, I would have given up hope," he said.

The industry has an adequate supply for now, according to Dr. Frank Knoefel from the Elisabeth Bruyere Continuing Care Centre.

The centre offers rehabilitation, long-term and palliative care at different facilities in Ottawa. It also has a 98-bed facility in the city's Lowertown neighbourhood.

"If the medication runs out in the community and we can't provide the care, yes they will end up presumably in a hospital setting," he said.

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