03/07/2012 01:07 EST | Updated 05/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta Chemo Patients Told To Get Own Anti-Nausea Drugs


A national shortage of injectable drugs has led the Alberta government to ask chemotherapy patients to buy their own anti-nausea medication from pharmacists starting Wednesday.

"We recognize that this may result in additional cost to you but all the drugs that we will be prescribing are covered by insurance companies such as Alberta Blue Cross," reads a letter obtained by CBC News that will be sent to patients by Alberta cancer centres.

"Please let us know if you experience financial issues related to these drugs and we will put you in touch with those who can help."

The drugs, which also include some that stop allergic reactions to chemotherapy, are usually given to patients intravenously when they arrive for their treatment. Chemotherapy drugs are not affected.

Under the new regime, cancer patients will have to buy the drugs in pill form and take them in advance of their appointments. Injectable forms will be saved for those who can't take the medication orally.

The timing worries Edmonton cancer specialist Dr. Katia Tonkin, who said making patients take anti-nausea pills ahead of their treatments could cause problems and slow down care.

"Vomiting is the thing patients fear the most and generally we can avoid it," she said. "But obviously, they've got to take the medication correctly and I can see some cracks in the system until we can get this sorted out."

The cost is also a concern for cancer patients. The oral medication can cost as much as $13 a pill, which patients will have to pay upfront until they are reimbursed by insurance.

"Yeah, it would be a concern," cancer patient Darlene Andres said. "Because of money. It's expensive."

The shortage is a result of the decision announced last month by Quebec-based manufacturer Sandoz to scale back production of some painkillers, antibiotics and anesthetics while it improves standards at its plant in Boucherville.

The plant is undergoing the upgrade to address concerns raised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In the meantime, a fire at the Boucherville plant on Sunday has stopped all production until at least Monday.

Provinces and hospitals across Canada are scrambling to conserve drugs affected by the problems at the Boucherville facility.