Pharmacists say shortage of cold, flu and pain medication continues in Saskatchewan

Soaring and sustained demand for cold and flu medication is forcing pharmacists and patients to contend with shortages across Saskatchewan.

“Our shelves are empty. Cough and cold products are non-existent. We can’t order any and there’s no date when they will be back,” Jaclyn Katelnikoff, pharmacist at Saskatoon Family Pharmacy, said.

“We’ve started seeing calls this week about Advil. We are running under the assumption that we will be compounding for a while and hopefully we will get some symptomatic relief soon.”

CBC spoke with 20 pharmacies in Saskatoon and Regina on Wednesday. All reported either having run out or running low on cough and cold medicines.

“We would love to see them back, as it will make our lives less stressful,” Katelnikoff said.

Jaclyn Katelnikoff says the shelves at her pharmacy are empty, and cough and cold products are non-existent. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

Katelnikoff said the plan is to compound, or make medication on site, as “people are not able to find Advil” in the city. Her pharmacy is restricting Tylenol to one bottle per family.

She said there is a huge need in the community, as ear infections and flus are rampant.

However, like other pharmacies, hers is not receiving regular orders of antibiotics.

“During Christmas, there was a lot of need for antibiotics and there wasn’t really any available. Since then, some antibiotics for kids did come back, but now it seems to be reversing,” she said, noting the supply for adults has been steady.

“We do have to compound amoxicillin, but hope the supply chain normalizes with the current demand.”

Smaller establishments like Pulse Pharmacy in Regina have back orders pending on Tylenol cough syrups and chewables.

“The cold, flu and cough section is pretty much empty. This is peak flu season and there is a dire need in the community,” Darshak Patel, a pharmacist at Pulse, said.

“A week ago, we were getting 15 to 20 calls every day, and the availability right now is indeterminate.”

Saskatoon pharmacy manager Stephanie Yeboah says the pharmacy has been getting calls from people looking for children’s pain and fever medications, but is hopeful for orders to come in soon. (Yasmine Ghania/CBC)

Patel said some big pharmacy chains have received American supplies sooner.

“Brand name medicines for cold and flu are out of stock. Pharmacies use the same few wholesalers and we too are subjected to the same back order issues,” Nanogram Pharmacy manager Stephanie Yeboah said in Saskatoon.

“We are in the thick of flu season and respiratory diseases. COVID is now an additional strain. People are looking for those medicines and are having a difficult time finding them.”

Yeboah said there are generic options available as the go-to brands run low due to “perpetual back orders.”

“It’s not that we are not getting shipments, it’s just that we aren’t getting the same volumes. It has been challenging.”

In November, Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said the province is working with the federal government to bring in more children’s pain medication.

The Ministry of Health provided a statement on the matter to CBC.

“The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health is in regular contact with Health Canada about actions being taken to address shortages, specifically pediatric analgesic, pediatric antibiotics and adult cough and cold medications,” it said.

It said Health Canada is continuing to approve the importation of medication for use in hospitals and sale in pharmacies.

“This will supplement the increased domestic production of Canadian supply, which remains at record levels.”

The ministry encouraged residents to stay up to date on vaccinations and get a flu shot to help prevent the spread of illnesses.

‘Supply is unevenly distributed’

Kelly Kizlyk, a medical information consultant at University of Saskatchewan’s college of pharmacy and nutrition, said drug shortages, especially for pediatric analgesic and antibiotics, have been lingering since even before pandemic.

“But the pandemic did worsen the supply,” she said Thursday. “It’s a complex problem with solutions that will take some time.

Kizlyk said the supply from other countries has been trickling in gradually, and that there are other alternatives and information available meanwhile.

“Distributors are surely key players, but manufactures and other stakeholders are also looking at solutions.”

Michael Fougere says people should not be hoarding at this point, as while the problem won’t be solved overnight, there are alternatives available. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

Michael Fougere, CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan, stressed that the shortage is a nationwide issue. 

He said there is a greater demand for medication due to “soaring flu” in Saskatchewan communities.

Fougere said there is no need to panic, as alternatives like compounding and generic brands are available.

“We know there are problems with distribution. The supply isn’t fair and equitable,” he said.

“Supply is unevenly distributed, but it also is a larger supply chain issue.”

Fougere said it is a systemic issue across North America and that the province is working on providing distribution and is in consultation with some private companies to increase production.

“If you find a supply, do not take more than you need. It’s not the time to hoard. The problem won’t be solved overnight, but it’s not unmanageable.”

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