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Some kids’ painkillers in short supply, but pharmacists say prescription not needed

Ontario seeing shortage of over-the-counter children’s pain relievers containing acetaminophen
Empty shelves of children’s pain relief medicine are seen at a Toronto pharmacy Wednesday, August 17, 2022. Pharmacists say Ontario drugstores are facing shortages of common children’s pain relievers amid sporadic supply disruptions across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joe O’Connal

Pharmacists say Ontario drugstores are facing shortages of common children’s pain relievers amid sporadic supply disruptions across the country.

They’re assuring parents that they can still get liquid Tylenol or Advil without a prescription, also noting that there are alternatives for fever and pain management.

Jen Belcher, vice-president of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, says the province is seeing an “extensive” shortage of over-the-counter children’s pain relievers containing acetaminophen, which is known by the brand name Tylenol.

But Belcher says if you can’t find your child’s preferred cherry-flavoured syrup on the shelves, there are other formulations that may do the trick.

She says pharmacists can dispense liquid acetaminophen from stock bottles without a prescription, and chewable tablets are available for kids who will tolerate them.

Barry Power, editor-in-chief of the Canadian Pharmacists Association, says the supply crunch is concentrated in urban centres in Ontario, but there have been reports of community-specific shortages in other parts of Canada that are also dealing with high disease activity.

While supply chain interruptions have contributed to the problem, an unexpected summer spike in the circulation of respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, seems to be driving high consumer demand, said Power.

Drug manufacturers are ramping up production to get these pain relievers back in stock come fall cold and flu season, he added.

As media reports have stoked unfounded concerns that children’s pain relievers now require a doctor’s note, Power cautioned parents against making panic purchases.

“We really want to reiterate that you do not need a prescription,” said Power. “Let’s not drive people into doctors’ offices and pharmacies with prescriptions if we don’t need to.”

Two Ontario children’s hospitals have taken steps to maintain supplies of liquid Tylenol and Advil for patients who are admitted, and are helping find solutions for children who are discharged.

In a letter addressed to caregivers earlier this week, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children said health workers would provide prescriptions for the liquid form of acetaminophen.

Some retailers may have these over-the-counter drugs in stock, while others may only have large bottles that need to be dispensed by a pharmacist, SickKids said in a statement Tuesday following news coverage of the memo.

“Dear Caregiver letters are routinely distributed to patients and families,” SickKids said. “The letter was not intended as a recommendation for the general public.”

In Ottawa, CHEO said it was among the pediatric health centres feeling the strain on supplies of liquid acetaminophen and the generic version of Advil, ibuprofen.

The hospital encouraged parents to ask their pharmacist about alternatives for fever and pain management, spokesman Paddy Moore said in an email.

Tylenol’s manufacturer said its children’s products are still available in stores and online.

“We continue to experience increased consumer-driven demand and are taking all possible measures to ensure product availability,” Johnson & Johnson said.

A spokesman for Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada, an industry group that counts Johnson & Johnson as a member, said there are “pockets” of Canada where shortages have happened, but downplayed the severity of the issue.

“In many cases, if there’s a shortage at a particular pharmacy, those parents that are looking for that product are able to go to a secondary pharmacy and often find it without that much trouble,” said Anthony Fuchs.

As Canadians have emerged from COVID-19 lockdown, there is high demand for cold and flu medication, said Michelle Wasylyshen, a spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada.

There have been rolling shortages of certain pain relievers in recent months, and some places have been hit harder than others, said Wasylyshen.

—Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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