Drug shortages in Canada

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Defining a drug shortage

A drug shortage is when a drug manufacturer isn't able to supply enough of a drug to meet all of its Canadian orders on time. The words drug, medication and medicine are often used interchangeably. For patients in Canada, this may mean they don't have access to the drug because it's on back-order or 'stock-out' (depleted entirely). A shortage may also cause a delay in a drug's availability as it flows through the supply chain.

Drug shortage reporting website

When there's a drug shortage, patients should consult with their pharmacists and doctors about other potential treatment options. In some cases, drug shortages are mitigated and patients don't experience any difficulty obtaining their drugs.

For certain drugs, manufacturers are required by law to report anticipated and actual drug shortages and discontinuations on the shortage reporting website. Governments, supply chain players and health care providers work together to mitigate or minimize the impact of shortages when possible.

A drug shortage can last a short time or a long time. It can be caused by :

  • a manufacturing problem or delay
  • difficulty obtaining raw materials and ingredients
  • a sudden increase in demand
  • discontinuation of the drug
  • a natural disaster
  • a pandemic

Addressing drug shortages in Canada

Drug shortages are the responsibility of many stakeholders. The decision to produce, market and sell drugs in Canada are made by drug companies. Decisions on which medications to prescribe are made by health care providers, working together with patients when appropriate.

Ensuring that Canada's patients can get the medicines they need is a top priority for the Government of Canada. Health Canada plays an active role as the federal regulator in assessing drugs and other health products on the Canadian market for safety, efficacy and quality.

Health Canada recognizes that drug shortages can have a negative impact on patients, caregivers, health care providers and the health care system. We are committed to doing our part to address these shortages as they occur.

Learn more about what we're doing to address drug shortages:

Addressing drug shortages is the responsibility of many stakeholders. These include provinces and territories, manufacturers, distributors, health care professionals and the federal government.

To this end, the Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee on Drug Shortages (MSSC) was established in 2012. The MSSC brings together representatives of industry associations, federal, provincial and territorial governments, and health care professional associations to mitigate and prevent drug shortages. Health Canada works with these important players to take action on shortages.

Health Canada co-chairs the MSSC, along with a rotating provincial/territorial co-chair. Refer to the multi-stakeholder toolkit (PDF document) for a description of the roles and responsibilities of supply chain players, and the tools and strategies available to address drug shortages.

The Provincial/Territorial Drug Shortages Task Team is another group. It coordinates communication around confirming and assessing the status and details of a shortage. Team members work together to gather details of a shortage, share information and coordinate mitigation and management strategies.

Health Canada has a Health Product Shortages Directorate (HPSD) that plays a leadership role in addressing drug shortages. When an anticipated or actual drug shortage may have a national impact, the directorate works with companies and other stakeholders to:

  • assess the supply and demand situation
  • identify options to mitigate the impact of drug shortages
  • ensure there is timely and effective communication between all potentially impacted groups
  • work together on strategies to prevent shortages and strengthen the supply chain

When a shortage has the potential to pose a significant risk to patients and the health care system, HPSD assembles a Tier Assignment Committee (TAC). This committee is made up of federal and provincial/territorial governments and health care representatives. TAC:

  • assesses the scale and potential impact of a shortage
  • determines if the shortage for a drug or group of drugs is Tier 3 (the most serious level)
  • gathers information that will help in mitigation efforts
  • develops recommendations on messages for stakeholders

If TAC determines that a drug or group of drugs is an actual or anticipated Tier 3 shortage, the shortage is posted on our Tier 3 shortages website.

For more information on tier levels and the tiered notification and communication framework, consult the MSSC Protocol for Notification and Communication of Drug Shortages.

If intervention is required at the national level for a drug shortage, Health Canada seeks risk mitigation proposals. Our review of proposals is guided by input from supply chain players and health care system stakeholders. As part of this process and for specific shortages, we convene multi-stakeholder meetings as needed.

Options available to us to help mitigate the impacts of a shortage may include:

  • using regulatory powers to allow for drugs labelled and approved for other markets to be imported into Canada
  • fast-tracking regulatory reviews

We may also use additional flexibilities to mitigate a shortage, such as extending the shelf life of a drug if there is suitable supporting data.

You can also learn about the regulations and guidance that help safeguard Canada's drug supply.

To help limit the impact and severity of a drug shortage, other players in the drug supply chain can take a number of actions, including the following:

  • health care providers may be able to take measures to allow for the use of alternative drugs
  • non-impacted drug manufacturers may be able to ramp up supply
  • distributors may be able to conserve product through protective allocation measures

List of Tier 3 drug shortages

What to do if you believe your medication is in shortage

A drug shortage is the same as a medicine or medication shortage. You may feel the effects of a shortage when you are unable to fill your prescription at the pharmacy or when there is no stock available in your local stores. Your medication may be on back-order or the stock may be depleted.

You or your health care provider can check if any manufacturers have reported a shortage of your drug on the Drug Shortages Canada website. For information on how to view actual and anticipated shortages or discontinuations of specific drugs you are interested in tracking, visit Using the Drug Shortages Canada website.

If the drug is not available, your first step should be to talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They will determine if there are other options, and may be able to:

  • switch to a different generic or brand of the same product
  • provide you with a different product that has the same active ingredient but a different strength or format
    • prescribing a higher-dose tablet that can be split in half or making up your dose using a lower strength
  • use a similar drug that has a different active ingredient
  • discuss other options with you to address your medical needs

How to check the drug shortage reporting website

The Drug Shortages Canada reporting website is where companies go to report all prescription drug shortages and discontinuations, including minor shortages that are not expected to last a long time. It may be used to view actual and anticipated shortages or discontinuations of specific drugs. Of note, not all shortages listed on the website end up having an impact on patients.

This website also lists the current Tier 3 drug shortages and their associated reports. In particular, you can use the "Search Reports" function to view reports for actual and/or anticipated shortages of all drug products containing the active ingredient(s) of interest. You can use the "Search Products" function to find out if there is, or has been, a shortage or discontinuation report issued for a specific product. This information is intended to help drug supply chain stakeholders gain insight on current and anticipated supply disruptions, and to mitigate them as early as possible.

When creating an account on the Drug Shortage Canada reporting website, you can sign up to receive tailored email notifications related to new and updated reports of shortages or discontinuations for specific products, active ingredients, and/or companies of interest to you and your patients. A website overview for public users is available to help you create an account, use the search functions and sign up for notifications.

Note: When a drug appears on the shortage reporting website, the shortage is not always felt at the patient level.

You can also search the Drug Product Database to see which drugs are authorized for sale and marketed in Canada.

If you're a health care provider, you can access specific information on our information for health care providers page.

If you’re concerned that a drug shortage has not been reported on our website, you may Health Canada by email to Drug.shortages-Penurie.de.medicament@hc-sc.gc.ca. We investigate any reports received and will:

  • reach out to the company to verify the information and have the company report the shortage if one exists
  • evaluate if additional actions are required to help mitigate the impacts of the shortage if there is one

We also work with our partners in the health care system and supply chain to help mitigate the shortage.

Note: In Canada, the rules for prescribing and dispensing drugs to patients are made and overseen by provincial and territorial bodies. For additional drug information on treatment options or where drugs or health products are sold, please contact your health professional or the manufacturer directly.

COVID-19 and drug shortages

Addressing drug shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging. Health Canada works closely with stakeholders to both:

  • monitor and respond to increases in demand or supply constraints
  • monitor the impact of the pandemic on drug supply

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted supply chain risks, as well as the need to work with domestic and international partners to leverage data that will help inform our actions. By deepening our understanding of the risks, both domestically and globally, Canada is better positioned to respond to shortages and to develop flexible and lasting solutions.

For an overview of the Government of Canada's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the following pages:

Through regulatory requirements, the Minister of Health created a List of drugs for exceptional importation and sale to mitigate a shortage. More information on these regulations can be found on the Regulations and guidance page.

Contact us

Health Canada's Drug Shortages Unit: Drug.shortages-Penurie.de.medicament@hc-sc.gc.ca

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