EDMONTON — With the supply of EpiPens running low in pharmacies across Canada, there are other places to find the lifesaving medication: on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace.
This week a handful of EpiPens were for sale online, with prices ranging between $25 and $60 apiece. Health Canada has been warning since January about manufacturing issues leading to depleted supplies of the EpiPen auto-injector — which gives severe allergy sufferers a shot of adrenaline in the event of an allergic reaction — and at the end of July, said in a release that pharmacies nationwide will be running out in “coming days or weeks.”
The shortage affects the 0.3 mg EpiPen (the one used by adults) most severely; the 0.15 mg EpiPen Jr., is available, but “the supply is limited,” said Health Canada. Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, said they’re in talks with other providers to try and fill the shortage.
The EpiPen online sales aren’t necessarily illegal, said Sharma, but Health Canada will be looking into the postings further. “There’s not a federally outright ban on selling it when it’s not a pharmacist,” said Sharma. “It’s difficult to say if there’s a violation there without getting more evidence.” It might run afoul of federal rules, though, due to changes to packaging or labelling or improper storage, or provincial rules about where an EpiPen can be sold and by whom.
“We’re not looking for a black-market solution,” said Jennifer Gerdts, the executive director of Food Allergy Canada of the online sales.
Buying one second-hand, or even from an online pharmacy, isn’t the best bet, said Sharma. “You don’t know about their authenticity, you don’t about their quality, you don’t know about the storage conditions,” she said. While Gerdts said the sellers are probably just trying to help, she said the organization doesn’t believe it’s a good way of getting ahold of EpiPens and is pushing Health Canada to come up with solutions.
The online listings — the Post reviewed postings originating in Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba, some of which were taken down after the Post contacted the sellers — are not for sale, necessarily, as a result of this shortage; most postings make no mention of it. One seller in Vancouver, contacted via Facebook Marketplace, said she had the EpiPen for sale because the allergies in her family weren’t severe enough to need it.
But a Kijiji posting, from Selkirk, Man., said “I know there’s a major shortage so please get in contact if you need.” A seller from Quebec, reached by phone, said the same. In a brief interview with the Post, the Manitoba seller — who asked that his name not be used — said he’d posted them in hopes that it might be able to save a life. (In a follow-up email, the seller explained he’d taken the posting down out of fears over its legality.)
He said he’d bought the EpiPens after having what seemed like an allergic reaction to fish at his cabin, while awaiting a full allergy test. “I never really ate fish before in my life, so I got scared, went to the doctor and talked to them, and they said ‘we’re going to send you for testing,’” he explained, and got EpiPens in the interim. When he had that test done a few weeks ago, and it came back negative, he decided to put them on Kijiji. “I don’t want to just throw them out,” he said. “I figured if I can get them off to somebody to save their life, I’d love to do that instead of just getting rid of them.”
The Canadian Institute for Health Information estimates there are 171,000 emergency room visits annually for allergic reactions, though most of them aren’t for anaphylaxis. For those with severe allergies, auto-injectors such as EpiPens — the only brand available in Canada — can be lifesaving. While other manufacturers have been approved, they haven’t started selling here. “We understand and regret the challenges this situation continues to pose to patients. Ensuring continuity of the supply of our medicines is paramount,” said a statement on Pfizer Canada’s website.
On Wednesday, the New Democrats demanded the federal Liberals ensure drug manufacturers maintain a constant supply. “When foreign drug companies fail to supply Canadians with life-saving pharmaceuticals, the federal government can and must take action, including expropriating patents if necessary,” said a statement from health critic Don Davies.
— with files from Maura Forrest
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