Federal Government Drug Shortage Report Falls Short in Protecting Patients

10 June 2012

Toronto -

Recommendations in a House of Commons report on drug shortages will not protect patients’ health, and cannot replace decisive government leadership on the issue, says the Canadian Cancer Society.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, which tabled its report on Friday, provided recommendations after examining the role of government and industry in determining drug supply in Canada.

The report’s recommendations fall short of fulfilling a motion passed unanimously by all Federal MPs on March 14 that committed the federal government to taking a leadership role in addressing drug shortages in Canada. The motion called on the federal government to:

  • cooperate with provinces, territories and industry, in developing a nationwide strategy to anticipate, identify and manage drug shortages;
  • require drug manufacturers to report promptly to Health Canada, the provinces and territories, any planned disruption or discontinuation in production of drugs;
  • expedite the review of regulatory submissions in order to make safe and effective medications available to the Canadian public.

“We are disappointed that the report’s recommendations do not provide strong, concrete action to achieve the goals MPs unanimously called for,” says Paul Lapierre, Vice President, Public Affairs and Cancer Control, Canadian Cancer Society. “Drug shortages are a national problem, and they will not be resolved without a Canada-wide approach. If the federal government is concerned about the welfare of patients in this country, they must lead the way in developing a nationwide strategy to alleviate drug shortages.”

The Society acknowledges that one recommendation in the report – that the Canadian Agency on Drugs and Technologies in Health develop a list of critical medication and provide clinical guidance on therapeutic alternatives – is a small move in the right direction. However, the report does not require mandatory reporting by drug companies of any disruption or discontinuation of drugs. As well, it does not provide concrete proposals for either preventing shortages, or managing them when they occur.

“It’s not acceptable for patients who are already going through a difficult time to have to worry about obtaining drugs they need for their treatment,” says Dan Demers, Director, Public Issues, Canadian Cancer Society. “Drug shortages have been an ongoing and serious problem for over 18 months. It’s time we saw federal leadership to tackle them.”

The Canadian Cancer Society believes three key areas must be addressed by the federal government to address drug shortages in Canada. These are:

  • require mandatory reporting by drug companies of any potential drug shortages
  • provide leadership and develop strategies to manage drug shortages when they occur;
  • investigate ways to prevent drug shortages.

“A logical starting point in finding effective solutions is to ensure information about drug shortages is readily available to both health professionals and patients,” says Demers. “We advocate that drug manufacturers must notify Health Canada of any anticipated product shortage as soon as they become aware of the possibility.”

Other recommendations in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health include:

  • consider expanding notification by pharmaceutical companies to Health Canada of a product discontinuation from 30 days to six months;
  • Public Health Agency of Canada to develop a policy on the use of the National Emergency Stockpile System during shortages of critical medication;
  • Health Canada to continue to cooperate with the World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on shortages.

Drug shortfalls have been occurring more frequently in the last two to three years, both in Canada and around the world. Shortages escalated sharply recently due to production slow downs by Quebec-based drug manufacturer Sandoz Canada. While this situation affected a large number of patients, it was particularly concerning for cancer patients as Sandoz supplies about 90% of Canada’s injectable drugs, particularly pain-management medication, and is a leading supplier of generic cancer medication and supportive drugs.


The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

For more information, please contact:

Christine Harminc

Senior Manager, Communications & Media Relations

Canadian Cancer Society

Phone: 416 934-5340