02/10/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 04/11/2015 05:59 EDT

Drug makers to be required to post info on shortages

The federal government is set to announce today it will compel pharmaceutical companies to post public notices when drugs are not available, CBC News has learned.

Right now, posting notices to a website about drug shortages is voluntary. For months, doctors and patients have complained the approach is not working, and people are not able to get the medication they need.

For instance, the former head of the Canadian Medical Association discovered liquid penicillin was temporarily unavailable in one Edmonton hospital last fall.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose has been consulting with drug companies, doctors and health professionals about the problem for months, trying to decide if the existing voluntary website was working. 

In an interview with CBC News last fall, it was clear which way Ambrose was leaning.

"You know, there's a lot of frustration in the system, and I think moving to a mandatory drug shortages system will help a bit of the problem," Ambrose said.

A source tells CBC News this is what the minister will announce today in Vancouver

During that same interview last fall, Ambrose cautioned that the issues causing drug shortages are a global problem, and a mandatory website won't fix that.

However, she added that if all companies had to publicly post on a website when a drug was unavailable, that information could be useful for doctors and their patients.

"We have a lot we need to do, but with a mandatory system we'll know for sure that we have that information, if available, when a drug will experience a shortage, and we can get that information to a doctor and he or she can find an alternative for their patient," Ambrose said.

The regulations are not expected to be announced today, including fines for companies that do not comply. Details about how the list will operate are expected in a few months.