Statements & Speeches

Canadian Drug Shortages (Question Period)

November 29, 2022

Hon. Judith G. Seidman: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator Gold, over the past four years, I have asked questions of the government about Canadian drug shortages. On December 2018, I asked about a Canada-wide shortage of the antidepressant Wellbutrin. In February 2020, I asked about a shortage of tamoxifen, a drug used as part of hormone therapy to treat breast cancer. In June 2020, I asked about shortages of thyroid drugs, inhalers, blood pressure medication and glaucoma eye drops.

On November 4, CTV reported a shortage in Canada of pediatric amoxicillin, the antibiotic most commonly used for bacterial infections such as those of the ear and chest. Some Canadian manufacturers are saying they won’t have any supply available until January 2023.

Senator Gold, what action is the Government of Canada taking to ensure that our supply of important medicines is sustainable and reliable?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question and ongoing attention to this very important issue. The Government of Canada has been working with — and continues to work with — domestic manufacturers and foreign suppliers to secure adequate supplies of all medications and drugs needed by Canadians and by our health care system. There is, sometimes, a worldwide challenge, and Canada does — and is doing — its best to secure supplies for Canadians as it has with regard to the issue of acetaminophen, the children’s pain medication.

I don’t have the details of the specific initiatives on specific drugs, but this chamber should rest assured that the government is working hard with domestic and international partners to address this issue for Canadians.

Senator Seidman: Senator Gold, Canada imports roughly 70% of its finished prescription drug supply, and about 90% of the components used in drugs that are manufactured here come from abroad.

Professor Joel Lexchin, renowned pharmaceutical policy expert at the School of Health Policy & Management at York University in Toronto, has suggested that Canada could produce a small number of critical drugs that are most likely to run out domestically through a Crown corporation or some other subsidized vehicle. This could secure the supply of those 20 to 50 critical drugs and also build capacity to pivot should we face another crisis like COVID-19.

Senator Gold, is the federal government exploring new ways of addressing this ongoing problem?

Senator Gold: Well, the Government of Canada is always exploring ways to ensure that it’s fulfilling its responsibilities and obligations to Canadians in this regard. I’ll make inquiries about this particular issue and the recommendation of the researcher that you mentioned, and I will report back when I get an answer.