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Children’s fever, pain medications in short supply in B.C. due to ingredient shortage: pharmacists

Pharmacists say challenges around sourcing raw ingredients are behind the shortages of over-the-counter children’s fever and pain medication in pharmacies and retail stores across B.C., but they are cautioning parents against stockpiling the products or trying to adjust doses at home.

Children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen products, often referred to by the brand names Advil and Tylenol, and some cold and flu medications have been scarce across Canada, with stores emptied out within hours of the products being shelved.

Chris Chiew, vice president of pharmacy and health care at London Drugs, said the retailer has been unable to maintain stock of brand-name products, generic products and products mixed by London Drugs pharmacists.

“They’re having trouble sourcing out raw ingredients to make the products — coming from the manufacturer directly to us is not the issue,” he said. “It’s actually getting the raw ingredients from overseas to try and make.”

Advil manufacturer GSK Canada said in a statement it is “working tirelessly” to meet demand, while Tylenol manufacturer Johnson & Johnson told CBC News it was “taking all possible measures to ensure product availability.”

Neither indicated when the ingredient shortages may be resolved, but Chiew said the shortage of medications is likely to last into the fall.

“There are alternatives available,” he said. “If they cannot find any junior-strength acetaminophen, there are options that a pharmacist can help dose according to the body weight of the patient.”

Flu, COVID-19 likely behind high demand

Barbara Gobis, director of the Pharmacists Clinic at the University of British Columbia, said this is just the latest in a series of other short-term shortages of over-the-counter medications, including a recent scarcity of acetaminophen products in May 2022.

She said an uptick in cold, flu, and COVID-19 cases is also likely behind the products flying off shelves.

Some children’s medications, including shildren’s Tylenol, are in short supply in Vancouver. The uptick in cold, flu and COVID-19 cases is also likely behind the products flying off shelves, says UBC professor Barbara Gobis. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“It’s been a bit more of a busy cold and flu summer because all the people who stayed indoors and didn’t interact with one another got outside the summer and spread some viruses around — and certainly with COVID still in circulation,” she said.

With the shortage likely to last into the fall and the start of the school year, Gobis encouraged parents not to discriminate against generic medications, which contain the same key ingredients.

“If you like Tylenol because of the flavouring and you can’t get that, there are still other products that are made by different manufacturers that can provide you with the acetaminophen ingredient,” she said.

“Once the product goes into your child’s body, that child can’t tell if it was acetaminophen that came from one brand or another, it’s in there to do the job.”

Gobis said it’s okay to take an over-the-the counter medication a few weeks past its expiration date, provided it has been stored safely. 

Children’s fever and pain medicine shortage not a cause for panic, pharmacists say

Over-the-counter children’s fever and pain medicine is in short supply across Canada, prompting some hospitals to recommend getting a prescription just in case. However, pharmacists are telling caregivers not to panic and to stop stockpiling.

But she cautioned against administering long-expired products, or adjusting dosages by cutting up pills meant for adults.

“Your pharmacist has all sorts of tricks and ways to make a formulation or product available that will meet your needs without you having to wing it at home,” she said.

“In a case like this, particularly when it comes to children, we want to err on the side of caution and follow the advice of the professionals who know.”

Public urged not to stockpile

In a statement, Health Canada urged the public not to stockpile the medications.

The agency said it is working with manufacturers, including the Canadian Pharmacists Association, and with provinces and territories to mitigate shortages, adding that those measures “may include regulatory measures” although they did not provide more detail.

“If you have two children, usually a bottle will take care of what you need for the fall. Don’t buy six or seven bottles ’cause that’s how many you see on the shelf,” said Chiew.

He added that while supply chain issues for over-the-counter medications may not normalize until spring, stockpiles of prescription medications at London Drugs remain steady.

Gobis said B.C.’s pharmacies are well-equipped to ensure patients have consistent access to the medications they need.

“Pharmacists deal with supply chain issues every day,” she said.

“It happens to be these products for the moment, and this will pass. We do have alternatives, we have options, and we have ways to to meet the needs of our patients and their parents to make sure people will be okay.”

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