Filling your next prescription at your local pharmacy may not be as easy as it used to be.
Pharmacists across Edmonton are facing a shortage of some medications, with one telling Global News it’s the worst she’s seen in her career.
Norman Weatherly is just one person waiting patiently for his medication to be refilled.
He typically spends most of his days listening to music for his blog, but these days something’s getting in the way more than it used to.
“When I have bad lung conditions it makes me cough very violently and it puts strain on my muscles across the front,” said Weatherly.
When Weatherly was, 65 his doctor told him he had the lungs of a 90-year-old. Since 2010, he’s relied heavily on his Tylenol Codeine 4 prescription to deal with the pain.
“Last Wednesday would’ve been my renewal date and they said, ‘We don’t have any. ‘Why, what’s going on here?’ and he said, ‘Well, we just don’t have any, we can’t get any,’” said Weatherly.
Weatherly has been told he’ll have to wait until the new year to fully stock his prescription and he’s not the only one.
“It’s actually been two or three more months now but because the list is getting bigger and bigger,” said pharmacy manager Ghada Haggag.
“The medication shortage gets more complicated, like outside of the pharmacy hands that we can control. This is why it’s a bigger problem now. This is so much.”
Haggag’s pharmacy is just one of many currently facing a shortage of various medications, including codeine and Ozempic.
Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company that makes Ozempic for Type 2 diabetes and Wegovy for obesity, has been warning for months now the products — which are both the drug semaglutide but at different dosages — will be difficult to get as the new year looms.
Already pharmacies in Edmonton are having to limit how much it dispenses and shortages means it’s very difficult for people to get their medications quickly, if at all.
“The patient usually comes and we have the prescription (filled) in like 15-30 minutes. Right now I would say maybe the day after, tomorrow when I get back from the doctor,” Haggag said.
A lot of the patients who head to her pharmacy tend to call around looking for their medications, but almost every pharmacy in Edmonton is facing the same issue.
She said in her 23 years as a pharmacist, she has never seen it this bad and that the backlog can mainly be attributed to manufacturing shortages.
“Usually, I have one account with one wholesaler. But honestly, in the last year, I’ve opened three different accounts with all three big wholesalers in Canada just in case,” Haggag said.
In the case of Ozempic and Wegovy — which has been approved in Canada for over two years but never actually sold here due to demand elsewhere — it’s a manufacturing shortage of the plastic used to make the injection pens the drug comes in, coupled with surging global demand for the drug that has revolutionized weight and diabetes management for many patients.
In a statement to Global News, Health Canada says ensuring Canadians can get the medicines they need is a top priority. It also works proactively to prevent shortages as well as resolve them.
“Health Canada, doctors, pharmacists, manufacturers and distributors work hard to minimize the impact of shortages on the health and well-being of people in Canada. Preventing and reducing the impacts of drug shortages is a responsibility shared between governments, industry and healthcare providers. We take a leadership role in this responsibility, helping all partners to work together,” read the statement.
Weatherly says there is no cure for his chronic lung condition and the medication he uses is the only thing he can use to subdue the pain. Without it, he can sometimes black out from the agony.
He currently has spare medication to use in case of emergency, but he can only make do a little while longer with what he has.
“It’s frightening, actually. Not looking forward to the day I don’t have painkillers. So I hope they find a substitute very quickly,” Weatherly said.
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