Causes of Drug Shortages in Canada

Drug shortages can occur for any number of reasons and can result from problems at any point in the drug supply chain. Here are some examples:

Supply issues

Drug manufacturing relies on active medicinal ingredients and raw materials that are most often sourced from international suppliers. Problems sometimes occur in the supply of these ingredients, and may include:

  • Contamination of the active ingredients or raw materials.

Manufacturing issues

There are numerous manufacturing issues that can create or contribute to drug shortages. Examples of manufacturing issues include:

  • Producing multiple products using the same equipment, which means that an increase in production of one product may result in a delay in production of another;
  • Contamination at various stages of manufacturing due to poor manufacturing practices or deficiencies in manufacturing processes;
  • Changes in manufacturing procedures or production lines that leads to temporary production reductions or stoppages. While often these changes are planned for in advance, unanticipated stoppages sometimes occur; or
  • Voluntary recalls initiated by the manufacturer because of potential problems with the product.

Contracting issues

The way in which drug ingredients or products are bought and sold can contribute to drug shortages. For example:

  • Manufacturers relying on single suppliers for raw materials; or
  • Hospitals or group purchasing organizations relying on a single company for the provision of a certain drug (i.e., sole source contracts).

Economic decisions

Economic factors can influence a manufacturer's practices and contribute to shortages. For example:

  • A business decision to stop producing a drug due to a lack of financial return or poor demand for a product; or
  • Manufacturers consolidating, limiting or eliminating production.

Health Canada is currently working with the Multi-Stakeholder Steering Committee on Drug Shortages (MSSC) to further examine the root causes of drug shortages and to work with key players in the drug supply chain to prevent and mitigate the impacts of shortages.

For more information on the causes of drug shortages please review the  Multi-Stakeholder Toolkit.

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