Mr. Speaker, in response to part (a) of the question, addressing the shortage of pediatric and children’s analgesics, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, is a top priority for the government and Health Canada. The department shares the concerns of many parents and caregivers, understands how important these products are to treat fever and pain in infants and children, and is committed to doing its part to address the situation.
Addressing drug shortages is a multistakeholder responsibility. It requires collaborative action from manufacturers, distributors, health care system partners and professionals, provinces and territories, and the federal government. When a national drug shortage occurs, Health Canada works closely with these stakeholders to determine the details and status of the shortage, coordinate information sharing and identify mitigation strategies, which may include regulatory measures to accelerate resupply if possible.
Health Canada first became aware of supply concerns of pediatric and children’s analgesics in the spring of 2022. The department engaged the major manufacturers of these products, as well as the industry association Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada, or FHCP, for information on these supply concerns. It was expected at that time that these products would face some intermittent and sporadic supply issues, but that stock-outs were not anticipated. The supply situation was expected to improve over the summer as manufacturers ramped up production. However, over the summer months, there was an unprecedented and unexpected demand for these products and companies were unable to produce enough to meet demand, causing a shortage.
With regard to part (b), since the shortage began, Health Canada has been in regular communication with manufacturers of these products, the provinces and territories, pharmacy associations, children’s hospitals, the Canadian Paediatric Society, associations representing consumers and retail companies. All stakeholders have been working together to increase supply and to help address demand. The Minister of Health has spoken to stakeholders to reiterate the urgent need to collaborate and mobilize to find immediate solutions to this shortage.
In response to the unprecedented demand, manufacturers have assured Health Canada that they have increased production, some producing at record levels, with additional work under way to further increase production. To supplement this increased supply, we have secured foreign supply of children’s acetaminophen that will be available for sale at retail and in community pharmacies in the coming weeks. The amount to be imported will increase supply available to consumers and will help address the immediate situation. Health Canada has also approved the importation of tens of thousands of units of children’s ibuprofen and infant acetaminophen for use in hospitals. The importation of ibuprofen has occurred and distribution has begun. Health Canada is working closely with manufacturers on proposals to also increase supply in retail settings.
The government is also working to help ease pressures created by the increased demand for these products. Health Canada is convening partners from across the retail landscape to promote strategies that preserve equitable access to these products and to communicate guidance on their safe use. The focus is on promoting the best possible use of Canada’s existing supply, while work continues to increase and stabilize supply.
While Health Canada works to bring an end to this shortage as soon as possible, it is also prioritizing public communication by providing information and advice to Canadians on what they can do and to discourage buying more medicine than is needed. This was done via a Departmental statement, a public advisory and a web page dedicated to the analgesic shortages. Health Canada has also convened stakeholders in the hospital and retail sectors to better understand pressure points of demand and develop strategies to support broader access.
In response to part (c), it is difficult at this time to forecast whether this will be an ongoing issue for years to come. The department will continue to actively engage key stakeholders to help mitigate the effects of this shortage as it does in managing all shortages of critical concern. All options remain on the table, and the department has been using the tools at its disposal, including approving the importation of foreign products to increase supply and working closely with companies authorized to supply the Canadian market to ramp up production, where possible. The department will continue to keep Canadians informed.
With regard to part (d), the practice of medicine is regulated by the provincial and territorial governments. Health Canada regulates the manufacturing of drugs, including over-the-counter pain and fever medication, runder the Food and Drugs Act and the food and drug regulations. Health Canada advises parents and caregivers to speak with a health care professional in cases where they are unable to find pain and fever medications for their children. As with all medications, it is important that children are given the appropriate dose as directed to ensure the safe use of medication. Improper dosing of medication can result in serious harm. Parents and caregivers must always carefully read and understand the information on the product label especially when a new medication is given to a child. This information was communicated in a public advisory, in which Health Canada advised parents and caregivers not to use adult fever and pain medications in children under 12 years of age without consulting a health care professional, as there is a serious risk of overdosing, especially when administering acetaminophen, and a risk of liver injury in infants and children.