Tylenol shortage: How far parents are going for medicine

With three of her six children now ill with a cold, Stephanie Goddard says a shortage of children’s medicines across Canada is causing her to panic.

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

Since June, Goddard has been struggling to find pain and fever medication for her children in Mississauga, Ontario, where she lives. While her five-year-old son and two daughters, ages three and one, don’t 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 have written to CTVNews.ca about the difficulty in finding pain and fever medication for their children. Many parents struggle to find medication and go to great lengths to secure as much as possible.

Goddard is among those who turn to friends and family for help, scouring stores and buying what they can find. Others said they visited pharmacies to make paracetamol, which was made by lab technicians, but had to pay more for the drug. Some families have resorted to buying medicines outside of Canada.

CTVNews.ca asked Canadians to share how the drug shortage is affecting their families. Responses sent via email have not all been independently verified.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association sounded the alarm in July over cold and flu drug shortages across Canada. High demand and supply chain issues are being blamed for impacting the availability of pain and fever medications for infants and children, such as B. liquid Tylenol for children, blamed. The shortage also prompted the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children to issue a letter to patients and carers advising them of potential challenges in accessing liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

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

In August, a social media post shared by Health Canada urged Canadians to avoid buying more acetaminophen and ibuprofen drugs than necessary for infants and children. Health Canada also advises patients to consult with physicians and pharmacists about other options in the event of drug shortages and to check the Drug Shortages Canada website for manufacturer-reported shortages. Health Canada’s website has reported shortages of chewable acetaminophen and Tempra infant drops, among other medicines for children. Bottlenecks arise when a drug manufacturer cannot meet demand for a particular drug.

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To help his 16-month-old daughter overcome her COVID-19 symptoms, which included a cough and a 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 right dosage for her daughter, he said. But for parents without that knowledge or prior experience, trying to do that calculation at home can be dangerous, he said.

Despite checking numerous stores and pharmacies throughout Grande Prairie, Alta., such as Shoppers Drug Mart and Walmart, Johnston said he was unable to find any medication for his toddler.

“It was incredibly difficult to find anything over-the-counter,” he wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday. “Pharmacies would tell us that because there is no retail size [we] would have to see a doctor for a prescription so they could repack the larger ones [adult or children’s] sizes into a dose suitable for little ones.”

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

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


Ellen Patterson works at a compounding pharmacy in Lindsay, Ontario, where she and other pharmacists have prepared acetaminophen as a concentrated liquid for parents to purchase. The pain and fever reliever is packaged in different sizes and comes with dosing instructions based on the child’s size. Although no prescription is required, the drug is offered behind the counter, meaning it’s administered by a pharmacist and not sold on a shelf, Patterson said.

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In recent weeks, more parents than usual have gone to the pharmacy to look for painkillers for their children, she said.

“We’re a tiny shop in a small town [and] we see people who aren’t our regular clientele,” Patterson told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Wednesday.

In an email to CTVNews.ca on Thursday, a spokesman for Haleon, the maker of Advil, wrote that both the COVID-19 pandemic and an “unprecedented” cold and flu season are causing “a significant increase in viral illnesses” in Canada have contributed . As a result, the company saw increased demand for products aimed at relieving pain in children, including Children’s Advil.

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

Johnson & Johnson Inc., the maker of Tylenol, told CTVNews.ca that it saw above-average demand for some of its products when asked to confirm shortages of Tylenol medicines for infants and children.

“We continue to see increased consumer-driven demand for 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 shortages of off-the-shelf pediatric medicine, products offered by compounding pharmacies may be another option for parents, Patterson said.

In some pharmacies, however, the drug is not available without a surcharge. Lindsay Haggarty said she’s been struggling to find liquid Tylenol for kids for her son for months. After visiting a pharmacy near her home in Calgary, she said she paid $27 for a 100-milliliter bottle.

In comparison, stores like Walmart sell 100-mL bottles of liquid Tylenol for kids 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 worrying that we cannot get Tylenol for children.”

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Other parents, like Alina Smirnova, have had to rely on medicines shipped from outside the country to make ends meet. Their nine-month-old son was recently diagnosed with roseola, a childhood illness that caused his fever to rise to almost 39C.

Given her son’s adverse reaction to liquid Tylenol, Smirnova had to give him suppositories, she said. But although she visited numerous pharmacies near where she lived in Montreal, she could not find any medication for her child.

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

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

Now Smirnova’s parents are asking if she would like them to buy more medicines before her return. She plans to give them a list of everything she needs, she said.

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

Finally, some parents deal with the shortage by simply being persistent, calling and visiting as many pharmacies as possible. 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 ill, she said.

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

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

With files from Solarina Ho of CTVNews.ca

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