Dealing with Canada’s drug shortages

A remedy for the drug shortage dilemma.

Drug shortages in Canada are not new, but they are being amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortages of drugs can be catastrophic for patients, causing treatment delays, increased suffering, financial burden and an increased risk of overdose and underdose. Because an adequate drug supply is critical for high-quality health care, the OMA and other health-system partners have issued warnings and called for immediate action.

To prepare its white paper, A Remedy for Canada’s Drug Shortage Dilemma, the OMA consulted with stakeholders at the provincial and national level. The paper summarizes best practices, builds on ongoing work and highlights opportunities for improvement. The OMA recommendations are based on lessons learned from the first wave of the pandemic, which did not overwhelm Ontario hospitals. Taking immediate action to address drug shortages is now more important than ever, as projections indicate increased cases and hospitalizations during wave two of the pandemic.

In the white paper, the OMA recommends that Canada increase domestic production of essential drugs and that all levels of government work together to ensure a sufficient stockpile of essential medications during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The white paper also identifies a series of recommendations on:

  • redistributing or reallocating unused drugs
  • using substitutions and alternatives
  • using an ethical decision-making framework regarding drug allocation
  • enhancing communications
  • temporarily expanding drug programs
  • developing and implementing a comprehensive drug-monitoring system

Bold and innovative solutions are required to comprehensively address the complex issue of drug shortages. Success will require the full partnership, attention and commitment of key stakeholders at the provincial and national level, in collaboration with governments.