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Sandoz injectable products at a pharmacy Thursday, March 8, 2012 in Quebec City. Sandoz Canada, a leading maker of injectable drugs, announced it has suspended or discontinued production of some drugs, prompting fears of a shortage of critical medications.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

The company that produces most of Canada's generic injectable drugs says it has partly resumed production at its facility in Boucherville, Que.

Sandoz Canada slowed production last month after receiving a letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration raising concerns about the level of sanitation at the factory. Last week, a fire forced the company to halt production entirely, further squeezing the supply of vital painkillers, anesthetics and antibiotics to hospitals across the country.

In the face of widespread shortages, hospitals have been scrambling to conserve their supplies by switching patients to oral drugs where possible and repackaging vials of medicine so they can be used on more than one patient. Many health-care facilities are holding regular meetings to update each other on their supply levels, and some have promised to share drugs if any of them run too low.

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On Monday, Sandoz issued a statement indicating that it began running some of its production lines over the weekend in parts of the factory that were not directly hit by the fire. A spokesman said allocations to hospitals would increase, but he could not immediately say by how much.

He said the company is continuing to address the FDA's concerns. In a Nov. 18 "warning letter," the agency accused the company of failing to investigate the appearance of crystals in a drug sold only in the United States, and not following proper procedure to avoid contamination of its products.

A Health Canada inspection found no issues with the company's Canadian products.

"Our objective is to restore previous levels of supply as soon as possible, and we will make every effort to meet medical needs, while ensuring consistent high quality standards," Sandoz spokesman Philippe Gagnon wrote in an e-mail.

He said he couldn't say how much of the plant was back in service on Monday.

Sandoz posted a statement on its website indicating it had added new controls at the factory to keep the production area segregated from the part of the building affected by the fire.

Doctors and pharmacists say drug shortages have been a concern in Canada for several years, with different types of medicines periodically becoming so scarce that they have to switch patients to other drugs.

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But the current shortage is particularly acute, they say. Sandoz supplies about 90 per cent of the generic injectable drugs used in Canada, so the slowdown was a major blow for health-care facilities.

Drug manufacturers are supposed to report voluntarily any expected drug shortages, but many health-care professionals say they are frequently in the dark when supplies of a particular medicine run low. Last week, a spokesman for Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq suggested the government would consider making the reporting mandatory.

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