Epilepsy & Drug Shortages

Epilepsy & Drug Shortages
Epilepsy & Drug Shortages

Shortages of epilepsy medications are a huge concern that impacts the lives of people living with epilepsy greatly - many of whom rely upon their daily medications to be able to function and go about their lives each day.

Within the last year, there have been a number of shortages of a variety of epilepsy medication in Canada, with one medication in particular, Clobazam (Frisium) becoming unavailable more than once. Many people learned about this most recent Clobazam shortage too late, and were left scrambling trying to track down an extra few weeks supply. Currently, there are over 500 different medications and supplements listed on the website DrugShortages.ca. This is quite an astounding number and the shortages are from a variety of drug companies and manufacturers, affecting Canadians living with epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, chronic pain and a whole host of other medical issues and conditions.

Why do medication shortages happen?
Many times there is no clear reason or answer as to why a drug may become unavailable. Sometimes it may be that the manufacturer is unable to obtain the supplies or materials needed to create the drug and other times it may be that the manufacturer just cannot produce enough product to meet demand. There are also times when drug companies may be unable to transport the requested amounts of product fast enough, especially if a drug company outsources production to another country; a practice which is becoming more common.

What is being done about medication shortages?

With the number of medication shortages on the rise in Canada, and with some epilepsy medications (such as Clobazam, being quite frequently on shortage) various Canadian medical boards, physician associations, pharmacist associations, the federal government and Health Canada have began to take this issue as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

The first step that Health Canada took was to create the website, DrugShortages.ca to help alert Canadians of any reported medication shortages. The downfall here is that pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers and distributers are not obligated to report any upcoming or possible shortages. Anyone can sign up for email alerts (daily or weekly) to be notified when medications or supplements have been added to the database, or if a shortage has been updated or removed. Unfortunately you cannot specify for emails only about epilepsy medications, but nonetheless, it is a small step in the right direction.

Secondly, Health Canada has created a "Public Consultation on the Notification of Drug Shortages" which asks Canadians who are often impacted (and even those who haven't been) for their input on how the notification process can be improved, along with how drug shortages impact Canadians and their daily lives. This consultation is open for input until July 5th, 2014 and the online link can be found here: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/consultation/drug-medic/consult_shortages-penuries-eng.php

What can you do if your medication is impacted by a drug shortage?
If your medication is impacted, contact your family physician, your neurologist and your pharmacist as soon as possible. Your doctor or neurologist may suggest a different dosage for you throughout the shortage, or if they may want to change your medication if the shortage is expected to be long-lasting.

Your pharmacist may also be able to refill your prescription early so you may have an extra few weeks supply. The pharmacy may also be able to track down extra stock at another location or provide you with either a generic or a name brand of your medication.

The MOST IMPORTANT thing to do is to continue taking your prescribed dosage of your medications. DO NOT make any adjustments to try to conserve your medications - this can wind up doing you much more harm than good.

More Information, News & Resources:

Health Canada - Drug Shortages Information:

The Canadian Epilepsy Alliance's Response to Drug Shortages:

Drug Shortages Notification & Database:

News Clips & Articles



Michelle Kwan
Support Coordinator
June 26, 2014