Wendy Ackerley has company in her hunt for cancer-fighting drug Tamoxifen
Wendy Ackerley is far from alone.
The Halifax-area woman detailed her experience this week with trying to address a shortage of Tamoxifen, the medicine she needs to fend off breast cancer.
As Drew Bethune, the senior medical director of the province’s cancer care program, told The Chronicle Herald’s Stuart Peddle, between 600 and1,000 people in the province are affected by the shortage.
Tamoxifen fights breast cancer, both before and after treatment. It inhibits estrogen production and has been in use for about 30 years. Ackerley started on Tamoxifen in early 2018 after a mastectomy.
It’s an effective drug, so you can imagine Ackerley’s horror when she was told by multiple pharmacists that she might not be able to find it in Nova Scotia at all.
She spent days trying to find some, and so far has only been able to secure two months’ worth from two separate pharmacies. There’s no guarantee she’ll be able to get more.
The shortage is nationwide, and it’s not just Tamoxifen. Many other drugs are scarce. But Tamoxifen is commonly prescribed and used by thousands, so this particular shortage is felt far and wide.
People recovering from cancer treatment shouldn’t have to hunt high and low for the drugs they need to stay healthy.
The Ottawa Citizen reported a story similar to Ackerley’s this week, and earlier this month the CBC reported on a woman in St. John’s who was forced to secure a five-month supply through her mother in Ontario. About 400 people in Newfoundland and Labrador use the drug.
Health Canada maintains an online database (www.drugshortagescanada.ca) where all drug shortages are listed. The entry for Tamoxifen gives “disruption of the manufacture of the drug” as the reason for the shortage. It estimates Jan. 31, 2020 as the end date for the shortage.
Health Canada says that two of the three manufacturers of Tamoxifen in Canada have experienced production problems and they hope the shortage will be addressed in three months. They say the problem appears limited to Canada.
Provincial authorities in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have set up toll-free numbers to answer queries from worried patients. Nova Scotia's health authority said on Thursday they have asked pharmacies that have Tamoxifen to limit prescriptions to a one-month supply as a temporary measure. It also said the drug works in a patient's system for some time, so short gaps in taking the medication "is not harmful."
Meanwhile, Ackerley and thousands like her are left to hope that they can stretch their supply until those problems are ironed out.
We have to hope that Health Canada sorts this out as soon as possible. People recovering from cancer treatment shouldn’t have to hunt high and low for the drugs they need to stay healthy.