Drug shortages are an ongoing global problem that cannot go ignored. Canadians have been facing shortages of all kinds of prescription drugs, including medications used to treat epilepsy. Read on for more details or click here for a Fact Sheet.
Lives at stake
Sudden discontinuation of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) is potentially life-threatening. Without access to AEDs, doctors are unable to treat breakthrough seizures (seizures that occur despite the use of AEDs that were successful in the past) and status epilepticus (prolonged seizures).
This opens the floodgates for many other concerns including:
- injuries and accidents
- loss of employment
- loss of driver’s licence
- financial hardship
- stress on family members and relationships
As an added risk, drug shortages have significant repercussions for patients who have controlled their seizures with the help of pharmaceuticals. These patients may not achieve the same control with a different medication (in the case of AED substitution) or when they resume their regular AED (if it becomes available again).
Even if patients agree to try a new AED to circumvent the shortage, they lack the time it takes to properly adjust to the new medication. Physicians or nurse practitioners normally introduce a new drug gradually over many weeks. This allows the patients to maintain control of their seizures while slowly taper off the old drug.
The current situation
Health Canada does not require pharmaceutical companies to notify them of a potential shortage. This leaves people with epilepsy scrambling with no way of knowing why their drug is unavailable or when it will be available again.
To make matters worse, there is no system to notify physicians or nurse practitioners (and their patients) of upcoming shortages. These medical professionals only learn about supply issues when their patients are unable to refill their prescription. Health Canada itself only becomes aware of drug shortages through inquiries from the public.
How can Epilepsy Ontario help?
We believe pharmaceutical companies have a moral and ethical responsibility to not only maintain a consistent supply of medication, but to notify Canadians (be they patients, pharmacists, physicians nurse practitioners or Health Canada employees) as soon as they become aware of a potential drug shortage. The public deserves to have access to information about the cause and duration of a shortage.
Epilepsy Ontario is here to help you voice these concerns and bring attention to this issue. We strongly encourage the government to review this drug shortage problem. We have written to both the federal and provincial levels of government politicians urging them to tak immediate action.
It is unacceptable for Health Canada to have “no authority” over the supplies of medication on the market. The government must examine the underlying factors that feed the supply crises (e.g. pharmaceutical plant closures) so we can take action to prevent future ones.
You can join the fight for consistent and adequate supplies of AEDs. Click here to find out how you can support Epilepsy Ontario.
From epilepsy organizations
- Epilepsy Ontario’s Voices of Epilepsy series
From drug databases
- Canadian Drug Shortage Database– for a list of drugs currently in short supply
- Please note: pharmaceutical companies submit voluntary reports to the database. As such, the information on the above website may not be complete.
- Canadian Drug Shortage – for detailed information on shortages
In the government
- Federal government’s emergency debate (March 12, 2012)
- Result: Ministers asked the Standing Committee on Health to study the role of government and industry in determiningCanada’s drug supply.
- Submissions to the Standing Committee on Health from:
In the news
- CTV: “Epilepsy patients hit by sudden drug shortages” (Oct. 17, 2011)
- Toronto Star: “Anti-seizure drug shortage raised concerns” (Aug. 4, 2011)
- CTV News Kitchener: “Ont. scrambling to deal with expected drug shortages” (March 14, 2012)
- CBC Radio – White Coat, Black Art with Dr. Brian Goldman: “We Must End Drug Shortages” (Aug. 20, 2012)
- CBCRadio – White Coat, Black Art with Dr. Brian Goldman: “The Drug Shortage: bonus material and links” (Sept 3, 2012)
- CBC Radio - White Coat, Black Art with Dr. Brian Goldman: “The Drug Shortage: Season Opener” (Sept. 4, 2012)
- CTV: “Pharmacists warn worsening drug shortage will compromise patient care” (Jan. 14, 2013)
If your pharmacy is unable to fill your prescription, consult your healthcare provider immediately. Do not make any changes to your treatment (i.e. skipping doses, reducing the dose, or discontinuing a drug) on your own. Your physician or nurse practitioner can discuss the potential shortage of a drug with you and develop a treatment plan to safely manage your epilepsy condition.