Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to you today to ask you to bring attention and resources to Canada’s drug supply challenges. These shortages have existed for the past decade but have been greatly exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As frontline pharmacists and physicians, we have seen and heard of serious shortages of essential, critical medications. These drugs are often used simultaneously in ORs, ERs and palliative care wards, as well as ICUs. And while our ICUs are thankfully seeing fewer COVID-19 patients, the pandemic has been placing a heavy burden on their drug supply, where patients often require weeks’ worth of treatment on ventilators.
The shortages of these drugs imperil the lives of patients seeking care all over the country. Currently, the vast majority (24/32) of the drugs on Health Canada’s own Tier 3 list, which represents drugs for which there are no suitable alternatives, are essential for treating COVID-19. With the likely upcoming second wave in Canada, the potential for further exacerbation of these shortages is inevitable unless we implement rigorous preparedness measures.
At first glance, the federal government may conclude that this is a provincial and territorial area of jurisdiction. We can assure you, that there is a considerable role for the federal government to play on this issue of national concern if you so choose to take action. We believe you should.
Many of these critical care drugs should be part of the National Strategic Emergency Stockpile. However, it is clear that Canada simply did not invest enough into its stockpiles to meet the demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order for the stockpiling strategy to be effective, it is vital that the federal, provincial, and territorial governments work closely with hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices and primary care facilities nationwide to establish a
comprehensive list of critical medicines and develop a plan to procure medicines
in a coordinated manner to prevent unintended competition for resources.
The 2019 budget had earmarked funds for a new Canada Drug Agency which
would have oversight over a national formulary. This proposed agency could
similarly identify essential medicines to aid in an efficient stockpiling response,
whether through stimulating domestic production or through importation and
coordination of purchasing strategies to ensure that jurisdictions that have a
greater need for medications gain access to them. We know that COVID-19’s
impact on the health system across provinces and territories and within each and
every jurisdiction was not equal or consistent.
We appreciate the active efforts of Health Canada to resolve current or projected
shortages of critical drugs through its Tier Assignment Committees. Furthermore,
Ontario has a Critical Care COVID-19 Command Centre and has created a
Critical Care Drug Shortage Task Team. Certainly, the short-term deficit will need to
be resolved through this mechanism and importing from all available suppliers.
However, to support the system at large, provincial and territorial governments will
need national support, resources and (where welcomed by provinces) a certain
level of national coordination.
Regardless of well-established Federal-Provincial-Territorial dynamics, without
concrete preventative action, Canada will perpetually face drug shortages. This is
why we recommend that your government commit to working on a long-term
solution involving a three-pronged strategy:
1. Stockpiling of a Critical Medications List which the government commits to
ensuring are always in stock for long enough to meet the needs in an emergency
(likely through the Canada Drug Agency). a. A Critical Medications List would
allow the parties involved in addressing the drug shortages to have a clear picture
of what drugs to monitor closely, and provides a more comprehensive approach
to the problem.
2. A publicly owned generic, critical drugs manufacturer, or at the bare minimum,
public support for spare capacity by Canadian-based and controlled drug
manufacturers to be used for critical drugs. a. This manufacturer or manufacturers
would specialize in manufacturing the critical drugs on the Critical Medications List,
and would be primarily involved in satisfying significant portions of our national
3. Greater transparency and communications to and from governments and
the health sector around the essential drug supply. This would include efforts to
better track the supply of drugs in hospitals across the country and push
notifications on shortages through the appropriate channels to frontline workers.
We encourage your government to give this urgent issue attention and efforts
now, so that Canadians can have the confidence that their healthcare system
will be there when they most need it.
Health and safety in the workplace continue to be areas of concern to the CMA. The CMA recommends that educational programs on the risks of drug-related impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general. Occupations for which impairment resulting from drug use may constitute a serious hazard should be identified and designated as such. The association recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds to suspect impairment of the worker. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs should be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) being taken to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice. The CMA is opposed to routine pre-employment drug testing. It recommends that random drug testing among employees be restricted to safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable. Drug testing should always be conducted in such a way as to protect confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
The idea of drug testing among workers has developed from society's concern over the relation between drug use and impairment, with resultant risks to the worker, fellow workers and the public.
Education: Since prevention is the principal and ultimate objective the association recommends that educational programs on the risks of impairment to health and safety in the workplace be directed toward labour, management and the public in general.
Illicit drugs are not the only ones that may cause impairment. Certain prescription drugs and even some over-the-counter medications may affect a person's ability to carry out professional functions safely; such effects may vary considerably from one person to another.
Alcohol is by far the most common impairing drug implicated in accidents; in addition, the scientific literature contains a growing body of information on impairment and dangers resulting from the use and misuse of various therapeutic medications. Far less is documented or known about the role of illicit drugs in work-related accidents.
Safety-sensitive occupations: In most workplaces there are occupations for which impairment may constitute a serious hazard. Such occupations should be identified and designated as such. Workers who hold such safety-sensitive jobs must accept the fact that other workers and the public need to be protected from the hazards of impairment, whether from physical or psychologic ill health or from the use of drugs (over-the-counter, prescription or illicit).
Performance assessment of safety-sensitive occupations: The CMA recommends that supervisors be trained to refer a worker in a safety-sensitive job for a health assessment if the supervisor has reasonable grounds (e.g., unsatisfactory performance or observed unusual behaviour) to suspect impairment of the worker. The examining physician may recommend that some tests (including tests for the presence of certain drugs) be carried out under pre-agreed protocols. Workers holding safety-sensitive jobs must be educated to report any departure from their usual state of health as well as any drugs (prescribed or otherwise) they may be taking to the occupational health physician or, in the absence of such, to the physician of the worker's choice.
Testing: Any discussion of drug testing must take the following into account:
If a quantitative test is to be used to determine impairment a limit must be established beyond which a person is deemed to be impaired. However, since the threshold of impairment varies from one person to another this variation should be taken into account when a worker is being assessed.
The tests must be valid and reliable. They must be performed only in laboratories accredited for drug testing.
The tests must provide results rapidly enough to be useful in deciding whether the person should continue to work.
If different testing procedures are available and the differences between the validity and reliability are not significant the least intrusive alternative should be chosen.
The test should be conducted in such a way as to ensure confidentiality and should be undertaken with the subject's informed consent (except when otherwise required by law).
Pre-employment testing: The CMA opposes routine pre-employment drug testing for the following reasons:
Routine pre-employment drug screening may not objectively identify those people who constitute a risk to society.
The mass, low-cost screening tests may not be reliable or valid.
The circumstances may not justify possible human rights violations.
Random testing: The CMA believes that random drug testing among employees has a limited role, if any, in the workplace. Such testing should be restricted to employees in safety-sensitive positions and undertaken only when measures of performance and effective peer or supervisory observation are unavailable.
Role of occupational health services: Occupational health physicians must not be involved in a policing or disciplinary role with respect to employee testing.
CMA recommends that employers provide a safe environment for all workers. With the help of experts such as those from national and provincial agencies dedicated to dealing with substance abuse occupational health departments should develop lists of drugs known to cause short-term or long-term impairment, including alcohol. These lists should be posted prominently in the workplace, and workers should be advised that in the event of obvious impairment those involved in safety-sensitive occupations will be asked to undergo medical assessment. If testing for drugs is indicated refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
Alcohol impairment should not be tolerated, and legislation should be considered that would set a legal blood alcohol level for safety-sensitive occupations. Breathalyzers or other detection methods could be used if alcohol impairment is suspected in a person holding safety-sensitive occupation. As stated previously, refusal to submit to testing may result in a presumption of noncompliance with the health requirements of the job.
These measures should be discussed with labour and management. Labour should be expected to recognize drug-related impairment as a serious health and safety issue, and management should demonstrate its concern by ensuring access to treatment, prevention and educational programs such as employee assistance programs.