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US supply problems caused pain relief medication shortage on island

Children's Tylenol, for reducing pain and fever (Photograph sourced online)

A shortage of a branded medication that reduces pain and fever in children stemmed from disruption to supplies in the United States, a health ministry spokeswoman said.

Pharmacists on the island reported difficulties in sourcing remedies such as paediatric Tylenol but parents were reminded that other available products have the same effect.

The Bermuda Hospitals Board said last week that it was not affected by the problem.

It is thought that respiratory viruses in the US created higher demand for some medicines, which was thought to have prompted an increase in purchases by people taking precautions.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said on Friday: “As a result of the recent shortages in the United States of paediatric Tylenol, Bermuda has also experienced a shortage.

“However, local pharmacies have Calpol (paracetamol) from the UK for children, which has the same ingredients as Tylenol.

“Parents should consult their paediatricians regarding additional paediatric medications for fever and pain.”

Melissa Levy, the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association president, said that some pharmacists noted difficulties in sourcing infant and children’s fever and pain-reducing brands such as Tylenol and Advil.

She added: “There are however generic options available, which have not been short and pharmacies will continue to source these alternatives that are equally effective as the well-known brands.

“We encourage patients to take advantage of these options and the public can be reassured that these are as safe and effective as brand-name products.”

Shannon Scott-Vernaglia, a primary care paediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said last week that some parents in the US might have bought more medicine than they needed at the time as a precaution.

She explained: “We’re struggling with the supply of acetaminophen, which is Tylenol, but it’s got to the point where you walk in to a pharmacy and you look at that section and the shelves are empty.

“I think a bit like with the formula [shortage], part of what happens is there starts to be a little bit of short supply and then families get really petrified that they won’t have the medications they need, or formula for that matter, for their children, so then they start buying more than they need.”

Dr Scott-Vernaglia added: “It feeds a sort of frenzy, I think. It seems to be much worse for liquid medication.

“We’re definitely struggling also with, let’s say, adult influenza medications but not as badly as for children.”

Dr Scott-Vernaglia explained: “I think a lot of the recent issues have been a spike in demand, with the increase in respiratory illness that we haven’t seen for two years – that has really increased our need.

“There have been more illnesses with fever, more flu – so needing flu medicine, more ear infections that can be secondary to an initial viral infection."

She added: “A lot of times it’s a need locally: sometimes the companies say, we actually don’t have a shortage, it’s just the shelves in these neighbourhoods right now don’t have any, so it may be a distribution issue.”

A BHB spokeswoman said last week that the board’s supplies were adequate and no notification had been received from suppliers to say that orders would not be met.

She added: “We benefit from using suppliers from different jurisdictions which can help mitigate shortages experienced in one country.

“Should there be a shortage in paediatric pain and fever medications in the hospitals, we can use alternative dosage forms for paediatric inpatients: adult formulations can be compounded or repackaged into paediatric formulations and there are suppository and injectable options if such drugs were clinically required within the hospital.

“We do not know the situation in the community pharmacies, but at this time we are not experiencing a shortage.”

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Published January 16, 2023 at 9:01 am (Updated January 16, 2023 at 10:32 am)

US supply problems caused pain relief medication shortage on island

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