Drug shortages could mean 1890s-style surgery

Drug shortages could mean 1890s-style surgery

March 15th, 2012 // 12:29 pm @

Canadians will face medicine from the 1890s or no surgery at all if a shortage of injectable drugs continues, the head of the Canadian Medical Association says.

“I’m a general surgeon,” CMA president Dr. John Haggie said in an interview from Winnipeg on Tuesday. “You come to me with acute appendicitis, you need antibiotics, you need an anesthetic, and you need painkillers. At the moment, they all come from one place, which is closed.”

Hospitals across the country are rationing supplies carefully since Sandoz Canada shut down a portion of its plant in Boucherville, Que., last week after a fire in a boiler room. The company, which produces most of Canada’s supply of injectables, was unable to say how much capacity has increased this week and for what drugs. Nor has it said when production will be back to normal.

“When they run out, unless someone’s done something, that’s it,” Haggie said. “We’re back to surgery from the 1890s.”

Doctors shouldn’t have to go hunting for medications for their patients and neither should citizens, he said.

Haggie said he knows of couple of jurisdictions where elective surgeries have been deferred to safeguard a precarious supply of injectable drugs for emergencies and patients who have no other choice, such as those who can’t swallow pills.

Clinics and hospices have been left out of the equation in talks to ease the shortages, said Dr. Michael Smith, owner of Mississauga Colonoscopy Clinic.

Smith fears he could soon have to lay off his staff of eight and shut down, cancelling cancer-screening appointments for dozens. So far, he’s called in favours from colleagues and secured a four-day supply to keep his clinic open.

“We will empty the drawers, and unless Sandoz can continue to guarantee us at least a small amount each week, we’re going to have to close,” Smith said.

Smith added he was disappointed with Monday’s emergency debate in the House of Commons, saying politicians were blaming other levels of government with little talk of how to actually acquire drugs from other countries and bring them in quickly.

Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies and Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association announced $100,000 each toward a plan that they say offers:

Real-time inventory tracking that is publicly available on a bilingual website.
A system to report anticipated shortages.
Recommend solutions when medications are not available.
Development of systems to predict shortages in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Health Canada has said it will work to fast-track approvals for substitute products.

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