Alberta pharmacists warn about growing drug shortages

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WATCH: Concerns new generic drug price drop could lead to shortages

Alberta pharmacists are warning that government efforts to control prescription drug prices are leading to shortages of common medications, including those to control seizures and diabetes.

David Brewerton, the pharmacy manager at Lukes Pharmacy in Calgary, said companies are now required to report any shortages to Health Canada and that 4,400 drugs have been added to the list of shortages over the past 12 months.

He said at any given time, there are about 500 to 700 drugs that pharmacists can’t get.

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In some cases, pharmacists may be able to find a workaround – such as offering fractional doses – but many other patients will be sent back to their doctor for additional lab work and consultations.

Brewerton said Wednesday that efforts by the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance to keep generic drug prices down have made it impossible for manufacturers to make any money – and that has led to these widespread drug shortages.

A new pricing arrangement that goes into effect April 1 will see prices on almost 70 generic drugs drop by 40 per cent.

Brewerton said the drop in drug prices is leading to layoffs and wage cuts in the pharmaceutical industry.

“Just these cutbacks alone,” he said referring to upcoming price cuts to generic drugs, “are causing couriers to be laid off because they’re cutting back on their delivery schedules. There are layoffs and wage cuts happening in pharmacies.”

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Mark Percy, a clinical pharmacist, added that regulatory actions from federal and provincial governments have contributed to a drop in supply as manufacturers stop making drugs that are less profitable.

“Instead of 10 plants that make one drug, there might be only one,” he said. “So, if they have a contamination or they can’t get a raw material in, then that’s when some of these things back off and we don’t get the shipments that we want.”

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Brewerton added that as producing generic drugs becomes less lucrative, many smaller companies are being bought by larger multi-national companies.

“We used to have a lot more generic companies than we have now,” he said. “And it’s making a smaller and smaller market because there’s less and less margin.”