Canada’s drug policy: lots of photo ops, no action

Once again we wake to the news that Canada is experiencing drug shortages. This isn’t a new situation.

According to the CBC, Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose is set to make a drug policy announcement today (February 10th) in Vancouver.

Rather than quibble about who should report what where, why not put a national drug policy into force? That was the innovative solution the country’s health ministers agreed to in February 2003. Had a national drug policy been enforced, we would have saved billions of dollars a year, perhaps over a trillion dollars in the intervening dozen years, and smoothed out national supplies.

Placing one massive order a year would give us greater buying power, ensure even access to all drugs and make Canada a truly preferred client. It would benefit patient and pharmaceutical company.

Everything else is just a bandage and photo-op for a politician paid for by the patients.

We have been talking about this for years.

ER doctor and CBC radio host Dr. Brian Goldman said that a 2013 survey found 78% of pharmacists faced a drug shortage at work, which by March 2014 had grown to 100% of pharmacists who had faced drug shortages. That’s not a positive trend. As Goldman said, “shortages are the new normal”.

Two years before Goldman spoke on CBC’s Homestretch, he interviewed Dr. Rick Hall from Capital Health for his White Coat, Black Art program. Hall had conducted a study which found that 50% of specialists in Canada were dealing with drug shortages. Hall said that medical professionals are frustrated by having to resort to alternative drugs, when they exist, because these alternative drugs can be heavy-handed and create other problems.

As an example, Goldman spoke of a drug they rely on in the ER, which has an alternative drug that can address the short-term situation presented in the emergency situation, but is toxic to kidneys. That means doing long-term harm for short-term gain.

Hall said, “A national approach seems to have gone off the radar screen …”

This failure to implement a national drug program not only has cost money, it has prolonged patient suffering and jeopardized patient safety.

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