New report analyzes drug shortages in Canada and their impact on public drug plans

News release

September 21 — Ottawa, ON — Patented Medicine Prices Review Board

The Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB), through the National Prescription Drug Utilization Information System (NPDUIS) research initiative, today published the report Drug Shortages in Canada and their Impact on Public Drug Plans, 2017/18 to 2019/20, which provides insight into the impact of drug shortages in Canada, focusing on the effects on Canadian public drug plans and their beneficiaries.

This report is the first to use the Drug Shortages Canada website to provide an overview of the issue of drug shortages in Canada. The report captures drug shortage reports from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2020. Its study period, which precedes the COVID-19 pandemic, will provide future researchers a benchmark for assessing the impact of the pandemic on the drug supply.

The report finds that shortages were reported for 29% of the medicines sold in Canada in 2019/20.  However, 91% of drug shortage reports impacted multi-source, non-patented drugs where substitutions from another manufacturer were possible. Accordingly, only a fraction of shortages was associated with a steep decline in the number of public drug plan beneficiaries with claims. These findings provide important context but are not intended to downplay the detrimental impact that some shortages can have on individual patients and the health care system, particularly when substitutions are not possible or when variations in strength or dosage form are not interchangeable.

Quick facts

  • Between April 1, 2017, and March 31, 2020, a total of 8,558 shortage reports were filed by Canadian manufacturers, for an average of 238 new reports per month. 

  • In 2019/20, shortages were reported for 29% of the medicines sold in Canada. Generic drugs and drugs with a low treatment cost (<$10,000/year) had higher rates of drug shortages. No association was found between the relative international price of drugs and shortage rates in Canada.

  • The vast majority (91%) of these shortage reports concerned multi-source non-patented medicines, for which substitutions to the same pharmaceutical ingredients from another manufacturer were possible in most cases. Patented medicines and single-source non-patented medicines accounted for 7% and 2% of reports respectively.

  • Over half (55%) of the drug shortages reported were resolved within three months of their onset. About three quarters of shortages (74%) were updated to “resolved” within six months. Shortages of patented and single-source non-patented medicines were resolved faster than those of multi-source non-patented medicines. 

  • Most shortages do not significantly disrupt spending patterns for public plans. 

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