Parents don’t need prescription to buy children’s cold and flu medicine in Ontario: OPA

SickKids Hospital is giving families and caregivers prescriptions for fever and pain medications as concerns grow over the children’s Tylenol shortage. Shauna Hunt reports.

By Shauna Hunt and Meredith Bond

The Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) is reassuring parents they do not need a prescription in order to buy their children over-the-counter cold and flu medicine at a pharmacy amid a supply shortage.

It comes as SickKids hospital have said they have taken to writing prescriptions for some children to maintain supplies of liquid Tylenol and Advil for patients who are admitted and to help find solutions for children who are discharged.

OPA Executive Director Justin Bates tells CityNews nothing has changed about the way people can access these over-the counter medications despite reported supply shortages.

“It is confusing when you see levels of talk about the requirement of a prescription, but nothing is changed from a regulatory standpoint,” said Bates. “This is really just a way to help parents get greater access to the product.”

A spokeswoman for the Toronto hospital says while some retailers may have these over-the-counter drugs in stock, other pharmacies may only have large bottles that need to be dispensed by a pharmacist.

Anyone can access this supply, with or without a prescription. “If you’re in the pharmacy and there is no counter product available, you don’t need a prescription. You can speak to your pharmacist and they will have access behind the counter to be able to dispense a smaller quantity of the product,” said Bates.

When asked why some may be issued prescriptions, Bates said, “Because it follows a traditional care path and it’s much easier to people to follow and understand and they’ve decided to do that for their patients. That said it’s not a requirement.”

He added most pharmacies will have access to these bigger bottles of over-the-counter drugs to be dispensed. “In preparation for the shortages, many have gotten them so I would say the vast majority independent small operators to medium to large size pharmacies should have some on hand and their inventory.”

However, Pharmacist Dr. Tony Chaudhry at a Toronto PharmaChoice location, said they don’t have any backup supply and their supplier, McKesson, one of the biggest wholesalers of pharmaceuticals, doesn’t have any liquid acetaminophen (Tylenol) listed, even for them to keep behind the counter.

“There’s absolutely no stock available,” Dr. Chaudhry said. Chewable tablets are still available on shelves.

He said they only had about a dozen children’s Tylenol on the shelves and there have been a lot more parents coming into the pharmacy looking for it.

“We’ve had customers that we’d never seen before because they’re going from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for it. So everybody’s in panic mode now,” added Dr. Chaudhry.

“The reality is OPA is obviously unaware of the stock situation. So I’m not sure if they did their research. If they looked, then they would know that right now, it’s not available now. More stock may be coming but that’s something that none of us can answer,” he said.

Dr. Chaudhry said this is the first time he has ever seen a shortage of children’s acetaminophen in a liquid form in his years as a pharmacist.

A summer-sick wave paired with supply chain issues has been making it harder for Ontarians to manage cold symptoms and for drug store to keep their shelves stocked with medicine.

Late last month, some local pharmacies were observed, large and small, that did have stock, while others did not.

Bates tells CityNews this shortage could last well into the fall. “It is becoming a challenge I think even when you look at some of the prescription medications, because we don’t have a lot of domestic capacity. We’re not manufacturing our products in Canada so we’re relying on the global supply chain.”

He added, however, that manufacturers are working hard in anticipation of the school year starting and cold and flu season.

“Manufacturers are doing everything they can to replenish and our hope would be, by the fall, when we expect to see an increase in cold and flu, you will see more on the shelf. We’ve got the supply chain and labor shortages, but they also have demand too.”

With files from The Canadian Press, Lucas Casaletto and David Zura

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