Tylenol shortage: How far parents go for medicine

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With three of her six children now sick with a cold, Stephanie Goddard says a shortage of children’s medicine across Canada is making her panic.

“I can’t find children’s liquid Advil or Tylenol anywhere,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Wednesday. “And knowing that flu season is right around the corner … my anxiety is through the roof.”

Since June, Goddard has struggled to find pain and fever medicine for her children in Mississauga, Ont., where she lives. While her five-year-old son and two daughters, aged three and one, do not have a fever, Goddard said she still wishes she had medicine on hand.

“I hate feeling helpless,” she said.

Goddard is one of several Canadians who wrote to CTVNews.ca about the difficulty of finding pain and fever medicine for their children. Many parents struggle to find medication and go to great lengths to secure what they can.

Goddard is among those asking friends and family to help by searching stores and buying what they can find. Others said they have visited compounding pharmacies for acetaminophen produced by lab technicians but have had to pay more for the medicine. Some families have resorted to buying medicine outside of Canada.

CTVNews.ca had asked Canadians to share how the drug shortage affected their families. The emailed responses have not all been independently verified.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association sounded the alarm lack of medicine for colds and flu across Canada in July. High demand and supply chain issues are blamed for affecting the availability of infant and children’s pain and fever medicines, such as liquid children’s Tylenol. The shortage also prompted Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children send out a letter to patients and relatives inform them of potential challenges in accessing liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Tylenol is the brand name for acetaminophen, and ibuprofen is marketed under the brand names Advil and Motrin.

In August, a posts on social media shared by Health Canada urged Canadians to avoid buying more acetaminophen and ibuprofen medications than needed for infants and children. Health Canada is also advising patients to consult with doctors and pharmacists about other options in case of drug shortages and to check Drug Shortage Canada site for defects reported by manufacturers. Health Canada’s website has reported shortages among acetaminophen chewable tablets and Tempra infant drops, as well as other children’s medicines. Shortages occur when a drug manufacturer is unable to meet the demand for a specific drug.

To help her 16-month-old daughter get through her COVID-19 symptoms, which included a cough and runny nose, Branden Johnston used smaller doses of medication meant for older children. His wife is a pediatric nurse who was able to calculate the correct dose for their daughter, he said. But for parents without this knowledge or prior experience, trying to do this calculation at home can be dangerous, he said.

Despite checking numerous stores and pharmacies across Grande Prairie, Alta., such as Shoppers Drug Mart and Walmart, Johnston said he has not been able to find medication for his toddler.

“It was incredibly difficult to find anything over the counter,” he wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday. “Pharmacists would tell us because there is no retail size available [we] had to see a doctor to get a prescription so they could repackage the bigger one [adult or children’s] sizes in a dose that fits the little one.”

Johnston said he was eventually able to find a bottle of children’s Advil chewable tablets at Costco. He and his wife crushed the tablets and mixed some of them with water to give to their daughter using a syringe.

“It’s not the best option, but … you do what you have to do when you’re a parent with a sick child,” Johnston said Wednesday in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca. “Even toilet paper wasn’t that hard to find.”


Ellen Patterson works at a compounding pharmacy in Lindsay, Ont., where she and other pharmacists have prepared acetaminophen as a concentrated liquid for parents to buy. The pain and fever medicine is packaged in different sizes and comes with a dosage guide based on the child’s size. While a prescription is not required, the medication is offered over-the-counter, meaning it is administered by a pharmacist rather than sold over the counter, Patterson said.

In recent weeks, more parents than usual have visited the pharmacy in search of painkillers for their children, she said.

“We are a small shop in a small town [and] we see people who are not our normal clientele,” Patterson told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Wednesday.

In an email to CTVNews.ca Thursday, a spokesperson for Haleon, the maker of Advil, wrote that both the COVID-19 pandemic and an “unprecedented” cold and flu season has contributed to “a significant increase in viral illnesses” in Canada. As a result, the company has experienced increased demand for pediatric pain relief products, including Children’s Advil.

“This significant increase in demand has resulted in unexpected intermittent disruptions at the pharmacy and retail level,” the company said in its email to CTVNews.ca. “We encourage consumers to buy only what is necessary so that all parents and caregivers can have access to the product they need to treat their loved ones.”

Johnson & Johnson Inc., the maker of Tylenol, also told CTVNews.ca that it is seeing higher-than-usual demand for some of its products as it is asked to confirm drug shortages for infant and children’s Tylenol.

“We continue to experience increased consumer-driven demand with certain products and markets,” the company said in an email to CTVNews.ca on Thursday. “We are taking all possible measures to ensure product availability.”

As some pharmacies struggle with a shortage of commercially available children’s medications, Patterson said products offered by compounding pharmacies can serve as another option for parents.

At some pharmacies, however, the medicine does not come without extra costs. Lindsay Haggarty said she has been struggling to find liquid children’s Tylenol for her son for months. After visiting a drugstore pharmacy near her home in Calgary, she said she paid $27 for a 100 milliliter bottle.

By comparison, stores like Walmart sell 100-milliliter bottles of liquid children’s Tylenol for about $10.

“Unfortunately, my child is allergic to ibuprofen, so Tylenol is a necessity for us,” Haggarty wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday. “It is very concerning that we cannot get Tylenol for children.”

Other parents, such as Alina Smirnova, have had to rely on medicine sent from abroad to cope. Her nine-month-old son was recently diagnosed with roseola, a childhood illness that caused his fever to soar to nearly 39C.

Given her son’s adverse reaction to liquid Tylenol, Smirnova had to give him suppositories, she said. But despite visiting several pharmacies near her home in Montreal, she was unable to find any medicine for her infant.

After sharing her frustration with her parents, who are on vacation in Italy, Smirnova said they were able to buy two packs of suppositories and ship them to Canada for her son.

“We went to probably five to six pharmacies around where we live and nothing was available,” she told CTVNews.ca Wednesday in a phone interview. “I don’t think it is until you have children [that] you realize how bad the situation is.”

Now Smirnova’s parents are asking if she wants them to buy other medicine before they return. She plans to give them a list of everything she needs, she said.

“To me it was like a 911 situation … I understand why people stock up,” she said. “I don’t wish this on any other parent.”

Finally, some parents manage the shortage by simply being persistent, calling and visiting as many pharmacies as they can. After calling seven different pharmacies in British Columbia’s Saanich Peninsula on Tuesday, Liz George had no luck finding infant or children’s Tylenol for her 11-month-old and nine-year-old children, who are both sick, she said.

However, she heard from two pharmacies that stocked a different brand of acetaminophen for infants. After hanging up, she quickly drove to the pharmacy and grabbed the last bottle in stock, she said.

“The person at the counter said she was surprised there was anything!” George wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday. “I’m grateful to have found something.”

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Solarina Ho

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