Libby moves a concrete action plan to deal with drug shortages

House of Commons


March 14, 2012

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP) :

 Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to begin the debate on the NDP motion dealing with the current very difficult situation with drug shortages. I will be sharing my time with the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry

As members know, this motion follows an emergency debate on Monday. I would like to thank the Speaker for allowing that debate to take place. It was a very important opportunity for members of the House to express their concerns and perspectives on the issue of the current crisis of drug shortages and, more important, to put forward suggestions and ideas about what we should do to deal with that shortage. The fact that we had the debate on Monday was a very good first step.

I am very pleased today that the NDP is presenting the motion, which will be voted on later. We are very much hoping that all members in the House from all sides will come together. As the Leader of the Opposition said today in question period, we must work together to protect patients in our country. That is certainly the intent and the belief contained within the motion.

The motion states:



    That, in the opinion of this House, the government should: (a) in cooperation with provinces, territories and industry, develop a nationwide strategy to anticipate, identify, and manage shortages of essential medications; (b) require drug manufacturers to report promptly to Health Canada any planned disruption or discontinuation in production; and (c) expedite the review of regulatory submissions in order to make safe and effective medications available to the Canadian public.


We have had an enormous amount of information in the media. I also know we have all been receiving emails and phone calls about the impact of what the drug shortage is doing in Canada. We know that the crisis we face today specifically was triggered by the shutdown of the Sandoz drug production facility in Quebec.

What really concerns us, and the reason we wanted to bring this forward, is we believe this production shutdown and this crisis could have been prevented. If there had been an adequate plan in place by the federal government, we would not be here today debating the motion. Nor would we have had the emergency debate on Monday.

We know that Sandoz supplies 90% of all the injectable medications in Canada, and 100% of the narcotic painkillers and sedatives. This is obviously a very important facility and its shutdown had a very immediate impact.

I want to spend a few minutes talking about that impact. We know that the shortage is having the most serious impact on patients who are in intensive care units and those who are dying and are in need of pain management. We can only begin to imagine the stress and anxiety that places on patients who are in very difficult circumstances, but also on their families and loved ones. This is something that is very compelling.

We also know that injectable opioids are the main method for pain control for surgery, post-operative care and for any hospital admission. With the hospitals running low on these drugs, they are now being forced to cancel elective surgeries in order to save these medications for severely ill patients. We can see the domino effect that is beginning to take place in hospitals across the country.

We have also heard from nurses who work in palliative care. These people are on the front line. They have noted that for many people in palliative care, they are dependent on injectable opioids since they cannot take medications orally.

One of the things I was just horrified to hear was the reports from the Canadian Pain Society. It has told us that it has seen an increase in people who are putting out calls for help because they feel suicidal. They are very concerned that they will be unable to manage their chronic pain without the necessary medications.

We have also heard that people dealing with epilepsy are facing shortages and are very concerned about whether they will be able to have access to drugs. As well, individuals going through transgender surgery are also facing very difficult circumstances.

Although this immediate crisis was triggered by the shutdown of the Sandoz plant, I want to make it very clear that this, unfortunately, is not a new situation. As far back as September 2010, there were many reports across the country about drug shortages. In fact, the Canadian Pharmacists Association did a survey of its members and astoundingly 93.7% indicated they had trouble locating medications to fill a prescription in a week and 89% of the pharmacists surveyed indicated that drug shortages had greatly increased in the previous year. Already we were seeing a very difficult situation.

It seems pretty incredible that people can go to a pharmacy thinking they will get their prescription refilled only to find out the drug is not available and everyone is put into a scramble. Just imagine the time and resources that takes.

I want to make the point that although we have had a particular situation right now with Sandoz, this has been a more structural and systemic problem in Canada, and indeed globally. Unfortunately, it has been a problem, and now a crisis, to which the federal government has not responded.

We know the federal government set up a working group in 2010. It has eight organizations in it, largely made up of industry. There is no patient representative organization on the group. However, the big problem is it was to come up with suggestions for a voluntary system. As we know, that has been completely ineffective. If it were effective, we would not have had an emergency debate on Monday and we would not have this debate today.

I know there are different perspectives, and I will get into the jurisdiction question, but the fact is the measures that the federal government put in place have simply not worked. They have failed and we have pointed that out repeatedly every day in question period and in the debates that we have had.

What happened was the provincial jurisdictions, in the absence of effective federal leadership, took it upon themselves to try to solve the problem. I applaud them for that, but they are left scrambling to try to figure out what to do. We know that health ministers from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have been working together, through calls, working groups and so on, to determine how they can share the current supply and obtain a new sustainable supply. The health minister from Alberta, Mr. Fred Horne, put it best when he said, “We’re not going to stand by and simply wait to hear from Sandoz or the federal government”. They could not. They had to jump in and do something in the absence of any plan or action.

We need to reflect and acknowledge that the responses the federal government gave, particularly from the Minister of Health, have been absolutely inadequate and have fallen far short of what needs to be done.

Umpteen times now in the House, in question period and in committee, I have heard the Minister of Health deal with the jurisdiction question. It seemed like the Conservatives were blaming everyone else for the problem, rather than looking at what they could proactively do.

I do not believe this debate is about jurisdiction. It is not about the federal government delivering health care services or treading on provincial jurisdiction. It is about the federal government’s responsibility, under the Canada Health Act, to deal with this crisis. Therefore, let us get off the jurisdiction thing and figure out what we will actually do about it.

We have put forward some very concrete proposals in our motion that we believe will deal with both the short-term immediate crisis as well as long term. We want to see a nationwide strategy, in co-operation with provinces and territories and industry. We want to have reporting required. This is a key point. The voluntary reporting has not worked, so many people are now calling for mandatory reporting. That is very important.

In closing, I appeal to all members and all parties in the House to work together on this issue. I am very hopeful that this motion will pass. We will be voting on it tonight, so it is very immediate. We can show the goodwill of the House to deal with this problem in a non-partisan way and also that we can take action at the federal level, working with our provincial and territorial counterparts and with industry as well both on the short-term immediate crisis and on a plan for the longer term. If we have that commitment, we will restore some credibility and faith with the Canadian public that we can deal with this crisis.