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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith addresses the children’s medication shortage in Edmonton, on Dec. 6, 2022. Seventy per cent of the order has yet to be filled and the provincial government is hedging its bet on other provinces or territories putting their hand up for supply.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

As the supply of children’s pain-relief medication rebounds across Canada, the Alberta government’s plan to recoup millions of dollars on its deal to import Turkish-manufactured drugs is in limbo.

Alberta signed an $80-million contract with Atabay Pharmaceuticals and Fine Chemicals last December to procure five million bottles of pediatric ibuprofen and acetaminophen in response to a surge of respiratory illnesses among children.

Seventy per cent of the order has yet to be filled and the provincial government is hedging its bet on other provinces or territories putting their hand up for supply. Its immediate neighbours are currently non-committal or uninterested and Health Canada said it has yet to receive any proposals of the sort.

André Gagnon, a spokesperson with Health Canada, said in a statement on Wednesday that the federal agency authorized the exceptional importation and sale of 1.5 million bottles only for Alberta pharmacies and hospitals.

“Any changes to the distribution of these products, or to import additional quantities of Turkish authorized products, will require that a proposal be submitted and approved by Health Canada,” he said. “Health Canada does not have any outstanding proposals for the importation of Turkish-authorized acetaminophen or ibuprofen.”

Mr. Gagnon said the department would conduct a thorough review of any proposal and base its decision on the overall supply of pediatric analgesics in the Canadian market. He said the situation is “continually improving” with manufacturers producing at record levels.

So far, 5.8 million units of the drugs were produced in Canada and released into the market over the last three months, he added.

Another three million-plus units have been brought in from other countries to alleviate the shortage. In February, Health Canada approved the exceptional importation of name-brand children’s Tylenol from the United States for use across the country.

Since Alberta inked its deal with Atabay late last year, there have been numerous delays as the province and supplier worked through Health Canada approvals. Labelling, childproof caps and proper documentation are some of the complications.

On Monday, Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping celebrated that the first of three shipments of Atabay-produced children’s acetaminophen is now available for distribution in local pharmacies. The medication will be stored and sold behind the counter because of a lower dosage concentration.

Soon, the first shipment of ibuprofen, under the brand name Pedifen, will also be for sale.

“We hope this brings much needed peace of mind to parents everywhere. And parents can feel confident that we have secured a stable supply of this medication for years to come,” Ms. Smith said.

Scott Johnston, press secretary to Mr. Copping, said in a statement on Wednesday the drugs will have varying expiry dates, some lapsing in January, 2026, and others February or March that same year.

Mr. Copping, during the Monday news conference, said Alberta is in conversation with other provinces about procuring some of the 3.5 million outstanding doses to recover costs associated with the deal. The government also expects to recoup its taxpayer investment through subsidized medication sales.

Mr. Johnston, in his later statement, said: “The remainder of the order will be held until discussions with other jurisdictions and future needs of Alberta have been assessed.”

Alberta was required to purchase a minimum amount from the manufacturer to “obtain the best possible price.” The deal also covered adjustments required for production and manufacturing processes at Atabay and money required to meet Health Canada requirements, he added.

Neighbouring Saskatchewan told The Globe and Mail that it is considering Alberta’s proposal while British Columbia said it has safety concerns and is not interested in bringing in the Atabay products.

Dale Hunter, a spokesperson with the Saskatchewan health ministry, said in a statement that the Alberta government has been in contact with its officials but a final decision has yet to be made as supplies grow.

“Manufacturers are producing at record rates, while Health Canada continues to provide access to imported foreign authorized products,” Mr. Hunter said.

In a statement, the B.C. Ministry of Health outlined several reasons the province is not interested in the Turkish-produced products, citing supply and the end of influenza season. The strength of the medications is also a worry, because of a potential risk of dosing errors.

To date, Health Canada has approved one million bottles of acetaminophen for importation into Alberta from Turkey, 250,000 of which are for hospital use only. The other 500,000 bottles given the green light are children’s ibuprofen.

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