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What you can do to help mitigate shortages of fever and pain relievers

By Solarina Ho, CTVNews.ca writer

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    Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — Pharmacists and health care professionals are asking the public to do their part to mitigate the acetaminophen and ibuprofen shortages being reported across Canada.

Ongoing shortage reports in recent months drew particular attention this week after a SickKids letter to patient caregivers caused some confusion and misunderstanding. Some misinterpreted a prescription recommendation for acetaminophen and ibuprofen in order to ensure access as a requirement instead. No prescription is needed.

“It caught a lot of people off guard,” Barry Power, the editor in chief for the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA), told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Thursday.

Power says the majority of the medications are made in Canada, and that the shortage is a demand issue, not the result of any manufacturing problem or a factory being shut down. A Health Canada meeting on Thursday will examine the current situation and explore ways to address the shortage, he added.

With more viruses than usual spreading through communities this summer, along with concerns about a fall spike in COVID-19 infections, the shortage has prompted some people to “stock up,” buying multiple bottles at once. But similar to the run on toilet paper early in the pandemic, hoarding is exacerbating the problem, health experts caution.

“That’s the perfect analogy,” Power said, calling it a “domino” shortage and a national issue.

“Also at the beginning of the pandemic, we saw spikes in sales of these products that are used for fever and other common cold products. And then, six months later, nobody was buying them because everybody had already stocked up. That may be the situation that we’re seeing now … So really, it’s another part of the pandemic that is just making everybody’s life difficult.”

BUY WHAT YOU NEED, GET YOUR SHOTS The issue should be short term, according to Power, who is a practising pharmacist working virtually. In the meantime, there are things the public can do to help mitigate the current supply crunch.

People are falling behind on their immunization shots, not just for COVID-19, but for other essential vaccines, according to Power.

“There are a lot of viruses circulating among children that can be prevented by vaccines. And a lot of people have fallen behind in the routine vaccine schedules, so if those can be updated, that will d ecrease the demand,” he said.

“Polio has been detected in wastewater in a number of communities around the world. And those are things that we’re very concerned about and seeing a resurgence of. A fever is a common symptom of all of these conditions that children often get. Well, let’s try and make sure that we can prevent as many as possible.”

Some pharmacies have also taken steps to limit how much a customer can buy in an effort to prevent hoarding. The CPhA has not made a formal recommendation to do so, Power said, noting that it is difficult to monitor, but it is something the association could eventually suggest.

The CPhA did urge the public to not purchase excessive quantities of acetaminophen and ibuprofen in a statement on Wednesday.

“We’re in a situation now where it’s buy what you need, and leave something behind for somebody else,” Power said.

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