|Health Minister Fred Horne answers questions during a news conference at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Alberta, on September 4, 2012. The conference was held to announce Dr. Tony Fields' appointment as the chair of the Health Quality Council of Alberta while Stephen Lockwood was announced as the new board chair of Alberta Health Services. (QMI Agency/IAN KUCERAK)
Hundreds of medicine shortages are taking a toll on the Canadian health system.
Since June 19, there have been 100 prescription drug shortages, according to a new national database that tracks 260 medications where there are periodic shortages.
The new site, www.drugshortages.ca, is open to the public. Developed by the federal and provincial governments and pharmaceutical companies, the site provides emailed updates to anyone who signs up.
The site was introduced in Halifax on Friday, where Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne was joined by federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
Earlier this year, Alberta took the lead on working with the federal government to help provinces and territories address drug shortages.
"I think there's been tremendous progress," Horne said.
"We have a knowledge base now that we didn't have before about the supply chain of drugs ... we have worked together collaboratively to open avenues of supply, speeding licence approvals and identifying alternative sources of supply."
The effort has included constant contact with industry stakeholders to stabilize the situation and identify solutions, said health ministry spokesman Bart Johnson.
Efforts have included information sharing, weekly shortage updates and sharing clinical and conservation strategies when shortages occur -- like last week's shortage of potassium chloride.
The manufacturer said the country could expect a limited supply through mid-October, so an alert gave hospitals a shot at implementing conservation and finding alternatives, Johnson said.
"We're not surprised by things any more," he said. "When we become aware of pending shortages, we can adjust accordingly, and share with other provinces."
Drug shortages can be caused by a number of factors. A problem with the maker of an active or key ingredient in a drug, a manufacturing problem, safety issues identified at the place of manufacture, an unexpected increase in demand for that drug, regulatory delays in manufacturing site and/or health product approvals.
Delays can be caused by interruptions in the normal delivery of medicines through the pharmacy supply chain and distribution network or factors outside the control of a company, such as natural disasters.
Members of the public affected by a prescription drug shortage should talk to the health care professional who originally wrote their prescription or their pharmacist.
Aglukaqq also announced new clinical trials for "liberation therapy" for MS patients in B.C., Quebec and possibly Manitoba, as well as the expansion of a program to make healthier foods more widely available for northern residents. The program will begin in November.