03/12/2012 10:39 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Sandoz Drug Shortage: Canadian Cancer Society Says Feds Must Do More To Make Up Gap


TORONTO - The Canadian Cancer Society wants federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq to do more to address the urgent issue of drug shortages in the country, and says a mandatory reporting system for looming shortages is an important first step.

"Getting a cancer diagnosis or diagnosis of another significant illness is already stressful enough. To read in the newspapers that the drugs you need may not be available or to hear from your doctor that your treatment is being delayed, you really deserve the information," Dan Demers, the society's director of national public issues, said in an interview.

Demers and others from the cancer society met with members of Parliament on Monday to discuss their concerns over the drug shortages. The issue was to be the subject of an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Monday evening.

The problem of drug shortages has been increasing over the last year, both in Canada and elsewhere. But the problem hit a crisis point recently when Sandoz Canada had to temporarily slow down production at its plant at Boucherville, Que., to make upgrades in response to complaints about the plant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The plant, which makes 90 per cent of the injectable drugs used in Canada, also experienced a fire during the upgrade process. The plant is expected to resume normal production in the near future.

Requiring manufacturers to alert the government to pending shortages would allow all jurisdictions to better coordinate distribution of scarce available supplies, Demers said.

"There is a lot of collaboration between health systems. And they will look at it and say 'How do we triage this? How do we make sure that the people that need it the most get it?'" he said.

"Rather than having 13 different jurisdictions all trying to manage through shortages, why don't we have the federal government work with the provinces so that if shortages can be avoided they are, and if they can be managed, let's manage them by providing information out to the provinces, so that they can do the best work that they can with the situations they've been given.''

The cancer society suggested a number of steps the federal government could take, including the mandatory list of drugs in short supply and an early warning system to flag possible looming shortages. As well, the society's representatives asked that a Commons committee look into reasons for shortages and look to see how other countries have deal with the problem.

Health Canada said last week it is working with the pharmaceutical industry to identify alternate sources of drugs and would expedite approvals if they met Canadian standards for quality and efficacy.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Sandoz Canada shut down its plant in Boucherville, Que., in order to make the upgrades.

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