December 2, 2013 6:04 am
Updated: December 2, 2013 6:08 am

Eye drop shortage leaves patients scrambling, pharmacists frustrated

Polysporin eye drops are commonly used to treat pink eye, but many pharmacies in the Halifax area are running out or have already run out of the product.

Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – A shortage of a common over-the-counter drug has left many people, including some in the Halifax area, seeing red.

Polysporin eye drops are commonly used to treat pink eye, but many pharmacies in the Halifax area are running out or have already run out of the product.

Some pharmacists began noticing the shortage a couple weeks ago.

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“I just had a request from a patient. I looked in my drawer and we didn’t have any,” said pharmacist Darren Dileo, who works at Scotia Pharmacy.

“I went on my wholesaler’s website and it was showing short.”

Global News visited half a dozen pharmacies in the Halifax area, both large franchises and small independent pharmacies, and could only find one pharmacy with a full stock of the eye drops.

Pharmacist Sabrina McLean, who works at MacKay’s PharmaChoice, said that the shortage is frustrating, especially since it has happened before.

“It just seems like we’ll get a little shipment and we won’t get any for a long time. We might get three boxes and then no more,” McLean said.

“It’s frustrating because patients want to know. We can check the wholesaler website but that’s not very accurate. It may say it’s going to be available but it doesn’t show up.”

McLean said that her wholesaler has told her that the eye drops will be available December 7.

“But I find it can change day to day. Tomorrow it may say December 30. It doesn’t mean it will come in December 7,” she said.

The maker of Polysporin eye drops, Johnson and Johnson, acknowledged to Global News that there is a shortage.

But it is not saying why there is a shortage or how widespread the problem is.

In a statement to Global News, the company said:

We would like to let our consumers know that we are sorry for this disruption in the availability of POLYSPORIN® Antibiotic Eye Drops and that we worked very hard to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.

The problem, however, does not appear to be solely in Nova Scotia; many people are taking to social media to express their frustrations:

Many people on Facebook were also sounding off on the shortage:

M John Van Harmelen: Does anyone out there happen to have any polysporin eye drops kicking around? It seems they are back ordered everywhere and my little Christina is in need of some.
Melissa Hart: Need help on alternatives: Hailey & I have both come down with a start of an eye infection, every pharmacy within 100kms is out of the polysporn eye drops… Any ideas?

Patients looking for the product will have to see a doctor to get a prescription for another antibiotic.

It means a bit of inconvenience for them but pharmacists say it also means the province gets unnecessarily billed.

“The central issue really is the time and cost to the healthcare system,” Dileo said.

“A simple case of pink eye should not cost the healthcare system anything. In this case, the province of Nova Scotia is being billed for a physician’s visit, which really shouldn’t be happening.”

“It just wastes a lot of time with people driving to a walk-in clinic, waiting there and seeing a doctor, which gets charged to MSI, which maybe wasn’t necessary,” McLean said.

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