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Pharmacists fear run on children’s cold medicines amid shortage

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A national shortage of pain medication for children — due to a spike in demand — has pharmacists concerned about panic-buying of already tight supplies of children’s Tylenol and Advil.

“This is bigger than anticipated,” said pharmacist Alexander Mihaila, owner of Mr. Pharmacist in downtown Toronto.

He said he has noticed a lack of supply for weeks.

Many of those medications — acetaminophen and ibuprofen — are on back order, meaning they cannot be replaced and restocked quickly.

“Anything that’s chewable is on back order,” he said, consulting a computer screen in his pharmacy. “The liquids were going ‘bye-bye.’ I can’t order them. The chewable ones are on back order as well.”

The Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) said the shortage is possibly due to a summer increase in symptoms from COVID-19.

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“In this instance, it’s just unprecedented demand at a time when usually we don’t see the occurrence of cold and flu and pain and fevers as much as we’re seeing,” said Justin Bates, CEO, OPA.

“I think what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours is a rush. So many of our members have been telling me they’re seeing a lot of people rush into the store to get whatever supply is available.”

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In a statement, Johnson and Johnson — which makes Tylenol — said the company continues “to experience increased consumer-driven demand with certain products and markets. We are taking all possible measures to ensure product availability.”

OPA — which has had conversations with Johnson and Johnson — is warning that rushing to buy more will only worsen the supply-crunch.

“Stockpiling isn’t the greatest strategy, and it could mean that someone goes without,” said Bates. “We want to make sure there’s access for those who need it.”

The shortage had SickKids Hospital issuing a letter this week advising parents that securing a prescription may be the only way to obtain the medications.

The hospital said it “is reminding patients and families — who visited the hospital and need a liquid form of pain or fever medication for at-home use — to obtain a prescription from their SickKids’ care provider to help ensure access.”

Mihaila said people still have the option of requesting prescriptions for medications pharmacists can blend in-house, or for ones that can be dispensed into small bottles from much larger containers.

Still, he is hoping suppliers ultimately ramp up production, adding, “we’ve been caught with our pants down,” Mihaila said.

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“It definitely is a concern because we don’t have tools to fight fever. The only tools we have to fight fever are acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Without those two, it is dangerous.”

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