Statements & Speeches

Shortages of Pharmaceutical Drugs (Question Period)

December 12, 2018

Hon. Judith G. Seidman:  Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate and concerns shortages of pharmaceutical drugs.

This fall there was a severe Canada-wide shortage of both the brand and generic version of Wellbutrin, an antidepressant used to treat major depressive disorder. This is not the only drug to be subject to widespread shortages in 2018. For example, the EpiPen product, used to treat the most severe allergic reactions, and certain blood pressure medications was in short supply across our country.

As well, in March, the Canadian Anaesthesiologists Association wrote to the Minister of Health regarding shortages of several of the most commonly used local anaesthetics. The minister recently said in the other place that the government is taking important steps to address the issue of drug shortages but did not elaborate.

Senator Harder, would you please make inquiries and let us know what those steps are?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Senator, thank you for raising this issue; it is an important one. I’m sure that many of us, myself included, have friends and people close to us who are affected by these issues. I would be happy to make those inquiries and report back.

Senator Seidman: Thank you very much for that.

A report issued by the C.D. Howe Institute in June of this year showed that about 1,000 shortages had been reported annually in recent years. In fact, a third-party website which monitors drug shortages for Health Canada currently lists 1,689 actual shortages across Canada. The C.D. Howe report urged Health Canada to:

. . . provide annual reports on the drug shortage problem in an effort to define it, explain it, and above all, solve it.

Senator Harder, what is Health Canada’s response to this specific recommendation that it provide annual reports to Canadians on drug shortages in an effort to generate insight into these shortages?

Senator Harder: Again, I thank the honourable senator for the question, and I’ll add it to my inquiries.