A surge in the use of fentanyl needed to treat COVID-19 patients has created a shortage, prompting Ottawa to call on companies in the drug supply system to help mitigate the problem.
Ottawa issued a Request for Information earlier this week, seeking information from companies on the availability of fentanyl. The online posting explains that the information collected will be used to inform the government’s response to the pandemic and notes that demand is reported to have increased by two to three times, resulting in a shortage.
The notice says that Canadians who are ill with COVID-19 need access to safe and effective medicine and treatments, and that the government is monitoring the impact of the pandemic on the country’s overall drug supply.
“The priority of the government of Canada is to ensure that there remains a stable supply of fentanyl for those patients who require it for treatments as currently approved by Health Canada,” the Request for Information says.
“Current demand is reported to be two to three times higher than the typical level. This increase has resulted in reported shortages and Health Canada is working with manufacturers, suppliers and distributors to address those shortages,” it continues.
André Gagnon, a spokesman for Health Canada, said the department has been looking at the Canadian supply chain to identify areas where supply may be vulnerable, and addressing any weaknesses before shortages occur.
“These increased surveillance efforts include regularly engaging provinces and territories, industry, health care and patient groups – in some cases on a daily basis,” Mr. Gagnon said in an e-mail.
Fentanyl for injection has been designated as a Tier 3 shortage, he said, which are drugs that are currently in shortage or in high demand and pose the greatest potential harm to Canada’s drug supply and health care system. They are being "actively managed” by Health Canada, said Mr. Gagnon, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, industry and health care experts, to identify measures to mitigate the impact on patients.
“The Tier 3 list currently includes drugs that are being used to support COVID-19 patients, such as muscle relaxants, inhalers, sedatives, blood pressure stabilizers, antibiotics and pain medications (including fentanyl for injection), and is updated as needed,” he said.
Mr. Gagnon said the surveillance efforts include working with international regulatory partners, such as the European Medicines Agency, the United States Food and Drug Administration, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration and the World Health Organization, to share information on signs of global supply disruptions.
“This engagement has enabled us to better identify early shortage signals, potential mitigation strategies and to co-ordinate responses.”
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