Healthcare Officials In Canada Make Plans For Greater Transparency In Prescription Drug Shortages

Canadian officials are moving ahead with plans that might have a huge impact on the drug shortage taking place across the country. This motion has the potential to add much needed efficiency to the country's pharmaceutical system, but others are skeptical that it could prove to be another government-led disappointment, according to The Globe and Mail.

After a prolonged silence, last week the Canadian government announced that mandatory reporting will be required by all pharmaceutical companies. They plan to replace the current website database with a new one, transferring their nation’s drug inventory to a more proficient online platform.

An updated solution to an ongoing problem

For the last five years, Canadian patients have experienced drug shortages in hundreds of different medications. The majority of the shortages being seen in older inexpensive and generic drugs, however each medication is critical to one patient or another.

For example, Julian Cole, 24-year-old from Whitby, Ontario, has a variety of medical conditions including epilepsy and autism. His poor state of health requires him to take several different medications in order to control his seizures, according to CTY news. However, due to the drug shortages, Cole is down to a month’s supply of 500-milligram pills of APO-Divalproex, a generic form of Epival made by Apotex. Stories like Julian’s put a human face on an issue that is often discussed in terms of facts, figures, and numbers. Julian’s mother, Dotty Cole, is fearful about her son’s future. She said:

“This is his life we are talking about. This is not a casual over-the-counter pill; this is my son's life.”

Pharmaceutical experts explain that the drug shortage is a complex situation caused by a variety of factors including: safety problems with manufacturing plants, quality-control issues and unavailability of raw ingredients. Many Canadians believe the root of the problem is financial, since some drugs generate little to no profit, which has led big companies to discontinue certain medications entirely. Industry officials are quick to deny this claim.

Canada’s pharmaceutical system is currently not tracked like the United States. The U.S. enforces secure provisions and regulations under the FDA, a government operated program, whereas Canada’s system is managed by the pharmaceutical industry on a voluntary basis.

Strengths and weaknesses of the new tracking system

Dr. Richard Hall, professor of anesthesiology, critical care medicine and pharmacology at Dalhousie University, told The Globe and Mail that he supports the regulation policy and thinks that it’s a good start. He said:

“To the extent that there has been a reluctance to report the issue because it was voluntary, it will eliminate that.”

Many other experts who have been following the issue, however, remain skeptical. Though the measure does increase the level of transparency for patients, they think that drug companies will continue to delay their reports because, A, it puts them at a competitive disadvantage, and, B, these shortages are often times not even recognized until after they happen. Will this policy really fix how pharmaceutical companies manage inventory? Hall furthered:

“I don’t see any other solution to the situation because, to some extent, it’s market driven. The only way we can guarantee those drugs are going to be available for Canadians is to ensure we can independently supply them.”

Canada is currently working out kinks of the new plan and are asking pre qualified web developers to submit proposal plans for the new website.