Divalproex sodium shortage expected to end soon, but that doesn’t curb family’s anxiety

March 17, 2016

By Deron Hamel

Although a multifaceted effort is underway to end a  severe  shortage of divalproex sodium (Epival), a commonly used anti-seizure drug, the anxiety created by the limited amount of the lifesaving medication lingers, says Lynda Bowyer.

Empty pill bottle300Bowyer, whose 21-year-old daughter takes Epival to control her seizures, says this is the first time her family has experienced the stress that comes with a medication shortage, but notes it has been a learning experience.

“You have to be informed; you have to constantly monitor what’s going on with the (drug manufacturers) and the market influences, and you have to be aware of how (these things) impact the supply of what are lifesaving drugs, especially if one of your family members needs them,” Bowyer tells Voices of Epilepsy from her home in Sault Ste. Marie.

Contributing to the stress that families feel when vital medications are in short supply is the lack of information about why shortages happen, Bowyer says.

Following public consultation in 2014, the Canadian government announced it would be mandating the country’s pharmaceutical manufacturers to publicly announce medication shortages. Mandatory reporting is not in place yet.

“They (the pharmaceutical companies) haven’t been very clear on what is going on with the (Epival) shortage,” Bowyer says.

This, Bowyer adds, leaves families like hers feeling a great deal of anxiety and fear about not knowing when a lifesaving medication will be back on the market.

“Absence of a drug (like Epival) will endanger lives; there is no question in my mind that this is where we are at right now,” she says.

Bowyer’s daughter has not had a seizure in the more than five years since she began taking Epival, a gold-standard anti-seizure medication used to control a variety of seizure disorders.

Like with many other anti-seizure medications, a person cannot immediately stop taking divalproex sodium (Epival). Coming off the medication quickly can cause people to have seizures, Bowyer says.

“You cannot go two or three days without taking Epival without endangering your life, and that’s the bottom line.”

Bowyer’s daughter has a supply of Epival which should take her through the next six weeks when the shortage of generic divalproex sodium is expected to end. If the shortage has not ended by then, Bowyer says she plans to cross the border into Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to get a supply of the drug, which will cost more than five times the Canadian price.

“If my daughter does not get (Epival), she will lose her driver’s licence, she will not be able to attend school – these are the consequences,” Bowyer says.

Suzanne Nurse, director of information and client services with Epilepsy Ontario, agrees that this is a “very serious” situation.

“The good news is that there is recognition of the problem and there is a huge, multifaceted effort underway to end this drug shortage,” she says.

“There is new stock of divalproex sodium coming into the system, and there is more coming behind it. We need everyone’s co-operation over the coming weeks so that this essential medication can get to as many people who need it as possible. In cases when the medication is not available, people need to speak with their doctor about a suitable alternative.”

In a written statement, officials from Health Canada’s health products and food branch say they are working to end the shortage of divalproex sodium.

“We are working in partnership with all relevant stakeholders – including drug manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, provincial and territorial governments, and stakeholder organizations like the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance – to co-ordinate an effective solution,” the statement says.

Follow alerts on the Epilepsy Ontario website for updates on this drug shortage: http://epilepsyontario.org/alert/alert-divalproex-sodium/

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