Patients, pharmacies and hospitals in New Brunswick are feeling the ripple effects of a temporary stop in production by one of the country's largest medical drug producers, Sandoz Canada in Quebec.
In Dieppe, pharmacist Dennis Abud said that he is running out of several medications, including injectable painkillers like morphine. The shortage has been affecting his patients.
Abud said that in some cases he has managed to provide patients with the drugs they need, but not in a timely fashion.
"My staff got together and did a couple of phone calls and figured out a way to get it to the patient. But I don't know if that patient waited in pain for a while."
Sandoz Canada — one of the country's leading suppliers of generic cancer and heart medications — announced in late February that it was temporarily suspending production at its Boucherville, Que., facility.
Sandoz has scaled back production of certain drugs — mostly painkillers, antibiotics and anaesthetics — to upgrade operations after quality-control assessments by the FDA warned the factory fell short of its standards.
To exacerbate supply concerns, a fire Sunday in the ceiling above the boiler room of Sandoz's Boucherville plant has halted all production until at least Monday, and the company says it is assessing any impact to product supply.
"I got on the phone and tried to order some new product and it was already too late," Abud said. "It's been really frustrating for pharmacists."
John Staples, a Moncton pharmacist, said that the problem is not new. "It's been going on for two years," he said. "Sometimes they say there's none anywhere in the city."
Both health networks in New Brunswick are keeping a close eye on the situation.
"It is an exhaustive process. We've got pharmacists and administrative staff at all of our hospitals, going through all of our inventory numbers, looking at all the specific medications," said Luc Foulem, a spokesperson for Vitalite Health Network.
"So if we do have a situation where we would have a possible shortage we could identify alternatives."
Hospitals and pharmacies borrow and buy medications from each other, but when supply and demand don't match up there are no alternatives available.
"There's no life threatening medications involved at this point in time. But it's very much an inconvenience," Staples said.
A spokesperson from the province said that the Department of Health is working with the federal government and other provinces on the shortage issue.
Last week, Dr. Robert Cushman, director general biologic and genetic therapies at Health Canada, told CBC News that Health Canada is in constant dialogue with Sandoz and other manufacturers, as well as the provinces and hospitals.
"We can fast-track these alternate sources, but ... we have to look at the plant, the source, the medication … we understand it’s incumbent to do this as quickly as possible while guaranteeing safety," Cushman said.