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Drug shortage could delay surgeries

Mar 08 2012

A nationwide shortage of some prescription drugs may lead to cancelled or delayed surgeries in B.C. if supplies continue to be limited, says Mike de Jong, the province's health minister.

So far, there's been no impact on patients due to production problems at a Quebec-based supplier of injectable pain drugs commonly used after surgeries and in cancer care, de Jong said.

"The only area of concern relates to elective surgeries, and, at this point, I'm not aware of any rescheduling or cancellations," he said Wednesday.

"But there is a challenge we're working with."

No surgeries have been postponed or cancelled on Vancouver Island, said Shannon Marshall, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

But hospitals up and down the Island have shared a variety of medications to make up for the shortfall and pharmacists monitor stock hourly, said VIHA pharmacist Gordon Harper.

"We monitor inventories hour by hour, to ensure that if there are any anticipated shortages at any site, we can move the inventory to accommodate it," Harper said.

Sandoz Canada Inc., a generic drug company in Boucherville, Que., has scaled back production of some pharmaceutical products and discontinued production of others after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cited it for deficiencies relating to safety and reliability of its products. The company received the warning in November, but didn't tell customers until February.

Sandoz makes several hundred medicines, including injectable cancer drugs, antibiotics and morphine.

Several of the drugs were back-ordered when production stopped, Harper said, so the hospitals were already monitoring supply.

Hospitals on Vancouver Island have shared local anesthetics (bupivacaine), an anti-seizure drug (Versed), IV Gravol and an inhaled anesthetic (desflurane).

B.C. is receiving about 75 per cent of its usual shipments of most Sandoz drugs, the Health Ministry said. Sandoz has told the ministry it will bring that up to 100 per cent by the end of the month for critical medications such as morphine.

VIHA is working with Health Shared Services B.C. and the Health Ministry to ensure access and reallocation of drug supplies, Marshall said.

"We have to make sure we have sufficient amounts of drugs needed at all our sites," she said.

The heads of B.C.'s health authorities are teleconferencing daily about the shortage and the government has an emergency order process with Sandoz to fly in critical drugs to hospitals that run short, which occurred recently in Cranbrook, the Health Ministry said.

De Jong said he is encouraged to hear Health Canada will work quickly to find alternative suppliers for some drugs in Europe or the United States.

But he said it was unfortunate that Sandoz didn't consider the negative consequences its U.S. problems would have on Canadian patients, and that the company waited as long as it did to begin identifying alternative suppliers for its drugs.

kwestad@timescolonist.com

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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