Pharmacies are running low on supplies of a popular heartburn medication after an alternative, Zantac, was pulled from shelves in late 2019.
Supplies of famotidine, commonly sold under the brand name Pepcid, among others, are dwindling, CBC first reported on Wednesday.
According to the website Drug Shortages Canada, a third-party site set up by Health Canada, there are currently seven shortages of famotidine products. Most of these began in December 2019, just a few months after the Zantac recall was announced in October after reports of possible cancer-causing impurities in its active ingredient, ranitidine.
A spokesperson for Johnson and Johnson, the manufacturer of Pepcid, told Global News in a statement that they would be increasing their supply to cope with the demand.
“Pepcid products are available across all major retailers nationally, and inventory levels will vary by store location,” the spokesperson said. “We are aware of the increased demand for Pepcid, and have been partnering closely with our manufacturing sites to increase Pepcid supply in a timely and quality-based manner.”
Barry Power, a spokesperson for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, said his association has been hearing from pharmacists across Canada about shortages of both Pepcid and other brands of famotidine medication.
“It’s not quite as hectic as when ranitidine was being recalled, but they’re still dealing with trying to find alternatives for people,” he said.
“Pepcid, or famotidine is the ingredient in it, would have been the logical thing to switch to. And now that a lot of people have been switched to it, it’s depleted the supply. So it’s a domino effect.”
WATCH: Zantac pulled from shelves over possible contamination (Oct. 2019)
Now because of the new shortage, people might have to switch again, he said, especially since the shortage might last for weeks — possibly until March.
“If you’re using it for occasional heartburn, there are some quite reasonable non-prescription options out there: Gaviscon or Tums or any of the traditional antacids.”
People who normally take a medication like famotidine every day to control stomach acid will probably have to find something else, he said, perhaps a prescription medication like a proton pump inhibitor.
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“The problem with that is there’s been a big push to get people off those, and onto drugs like Pepcid or Zantac or completely off everything.”
People who are affected by the shortage should first ask their pharmacist or physician if they still need to be on their stomach medication, or if their symptoms can be controlled with changes to their diet and occasional use of something like Gaviscon, Power said.
If you do still need the medication, then you need to discuss options with your pharmacist, he said.
“It’s a very difficult situation for everybody. We understand that it can be very anxiety-provoking for some medications in particular, but everybody is doing their best to try and to make sure the medication supply is maintained.”
Drug shortages are a huge problem in Canada right now, he said.
“Pharmacists are spending somewhere in the neighbourhood of a day and a half a week trying to manage them,” Power said.
“It looks like it’s somewhere around four or five shortages are being reported every day for pharmacists and for patients. That translates into a lot of frustration and time.”