Feds approve Alberta government importation of kids’ pain medications but confusion lingers

There’s lingering confusion over whether Health Canada has fully approved the “exceptional importation” of pediatric medicine procured by the government of Alberta.

In late 2022, the province announced it found a manufacturer to import five million bottles of liquid children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

In December, 250,000 bottles of acetaminophen were approved for use in hospitals.

The remaining 4.75 million bottles are split between acetaminophen and ibuprofen. The acetaminophen — which is a majority of the children’s medicine procured by Alberta — has been approved for import as of Jan. 26.

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In a statement to Global News, Health Canada confirmed the approval.

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“On Jan. 26, 2023, after a thorough review and discussions with the company and the government of Alberta, Health Canada approved the exceptional importation of Turkish-authorized pediatric acetaminophen with child-resistant packaging for distribution and sale behind the counter in community pharmacies in Alberta,” it said in a statement.

“This decision is reflected on the online list of products eligible for importation.”

“Health Canada’s review of the proposal for Turkish-authorized pediatric ibuprofen is ongoing.”

The brand name of the procured children’s acetaminophen from Turkey is Parol (150mL), which comes in liquid form and is meant for kids between two and 11 years old.

“The information posted by Health Canada today is a big step toward the goal of getting these medications into the hands of families who are waiting for them,” Steve Buick, Health Minister Jason Copping’s press secretary, said in a written statement.

He said Alberta Health is “hopeful” to get “final approval very soon for the remaining 4.75 million bottles of children’s pain and fever medications that we’ve procured.”

“We’re looking to confirm directly with Health Canada that they have approved importation of the outstanding acetaminophen products, so that we can finalize plans to bring them to Canada for parents who are waiting for them,” Buick told Global News.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta hopes acquiring children’s medication helps ease strain on hospitals'

Alberta hopes acquiring children’s medication helps ease strain on hospitals

It’s unclear when the medication will start to appear on store shelves.

“Assuming we get confirmation, we can have them here very soon, potentially within a couple of weeks,” Buick said.

“We’ll also continue working to secure Health Canada’s approval on the outstanding ibuprofen products.”

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When Health Canada was informed of Buick’s comments, it issued Global News another statement.

“Health Canada has approved the importation of this product. Before it is imported, released and distributed for sale, risk communications and product labelling must be finalized by the importer,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

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Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt calls the ordeal confusing.

“Either this is a massive miscommunication that is just exacerbated over and over again because they’re not listening or reading — that’s one possibility — the second I guess, is maybe there’s a problem with the shipment,” he said.

David Shepherd, the Opposition NDP health critic, said the drugs are arriving too late to make a difference.

“The fact that the government’s procurement of medication will finally arrive when the crisis has passed and it is no longer needed, shows how deeply inept the UCP are at managing health care,” he said in a statement.

Meantime, pharmacists and families continue to struggle as an ongoing shortage of fever and pain medication continues across Canada.

However, they say the solution isn’t just more pediatric acetaminophen — drugs for adults are needed too.

“This is not just a cough and cold thing — not a kid problem — we can’t get several things that should be in a supply chain,” said Bob McQueen, a pharmacist at a Medicine Shoppe location in Edmonton.

McQueen said his parmacy is experiencing shortages of several products, including children’s ibuprofen, cough and cold medications for both kids and adults, children’s anibiotics (specifically penicillin), adult pain relievers such as Tylenol #3 and products containing codeine, adult acetaminophen, kid’s Gravol anti-nausea medication, and Ensure meal replacement products.

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“Please find us the cough and cold medicines.”

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