Alberta Pharmacists Are Having a Difficult Time Replacing Heart Drugs During the Chronic Drug Shortages in Canada

Pharmacists in Alberta complain that the recall this week has made replacing patients’ heart medications even worse, considering the chronic drug shortages in Canada.

This week, Health Canada recalled some medications that contain an impurity linked to increased risk of cancer if a person is exposed to it for an extended period. The carcinogen is called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), and it was found in valsartan.

The supplier of these medications is Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceuticals, a Chinese company. Patients take drugs containing valsartan to treat their high blood pressure, to prevent stroke or heart attacks. The regulator said that the recalled medication contains a particular type of valsartan that could have the carcinogenic impurity.

Pharmacist Greg Bueckert explains why the recall is shocking:

“We do get notices but nothing to this degree where they’re removing mass amounts of an essential medication from the marketplace.”

According to Health Canada’s recommendations, patients that take those medications must check with the doctors and pharmacists to switch the prescriptions.

But there is an issue. Drug shortage in Canada makes it difficult to find a replacement for the recalled drugs, said Bueckert:

“We don’t have options anymore. We take what we get.”

In 2012, Health Canada tried to address the drug shortage issue, but the problem hasn’t been solved – and it even got worse. Pharmacists said they had short supplies of drugs and had to send patients back to their physicians to reassess their treatment.

According to a study released by C.D. Howe Institute last month, drug supply shortages in Canada are mostly for generic drugs (over three-quarters).

Pharmacist Rob Heaton owns Cambrian Pharmacy (Calgary). He explains that Health Canada announced that patients must continue their medication, but the drug shortages make it impossible:

“Currently due to drug shortages, there is no valsartan that’s available at this time from the wholesalers. So we’re going to have to… find some very quickly or again, get a hold of physicians to have them changed.”

On Health Canada’s website, there is a note explaining drug shortages. They may occur when an ingredient is missing, when there are voluntary recalls, manufacturing issues, or economic decisions.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere