"We're out right now, sorry."
"Everyone's been calling."
"Everywhere is the same."
Pharmacists across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area say they're dealing with an intense shortage of children's pain medication like Advil and Tylenol, despite the Health Ministry saying that's not the case.
QP Briefing went to six pharmacies in old Toronto — including Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall and independent stores — and called seven more in Oakville, Brampton, Pickering, Oshawa, Burlington, Hamilton and Richmond Hill.
All except one said the same thing: they had no stock. Some carried homeopathic remedies, but no ibuprofen- or acetaminophen-based children's drugs. Only a Shoppers Drug Mart in Oakville said they had any in stock.
"It’s been going on a couple months now," an independent pharmacist in Toronto said. "It's all out, everywhere."
Most pharmacists suggested coming back in a week. One independent pharmacist said she might get a shipment of "two or three bottles" of children's Advil by then.
Having clearly talked down anxious parents before, she stressed that solutions are available, including compounding and home remedies.
Another independent pharmacist had just three boxes of infants' Tylenol. Parents can double the dose for a five-year-old, she said.
The Rexall and Shoppers in Toronto both had signs noting the shortage, and urged customers to talk to pharmacists about alternatives. Shoppers limited purchases to one per customer.
One pharmacist in Burlington said he had a friend in the United States who might be able to bring him back some children's meds from an American Costco. Even so, the pharmacist said he doesn't know how much his friend would be able to get. Call back in a week, he suggested.
The Ontario Ministry of Health suggested there's nothing to worry about.
As of Wednesday, "Children’s Tylenol and Advil products are not reported as being in active shortage," spokesperson Bill Campbell said in an email.
He said drug manufacturers have to report product shortages to Health Canada, which are then listed on a website. The site is run by Bell Canada, which, along with the federal ministry, didn't respond to request for comment.
Despite saying there's no shortage, Campbell said pharmacists have been told to think about "alternatives."
"The Ontario College of Pharmacists has advised pharmacy professionals to use their judgment to advise patients and their families on appropriate alternatives based on individual circumstances," he said. "The Ministry of Health encourages Ontarians to continue to practice normal buying habits."
Health Minister Sylvia Jones also refused to comment on the matter. Her office ignored multiple inquiries from QPB about whether the government is doing anything to try to ease the shortage.
Her last comment on the matter came in August, when she told CBC the province was keeping an eye on it.
The issue is far from an Ontario-only problem. The Toronto Star published an in-depth explainer on the reasons behind the coast-to-coast shortages on Wednesday — but it basically boils down to too much demand and too little supply. (Try asking a parent of young kids if they can remember the last time their family has been healthy for a week straight).
Parents treating a spike in illnesses like COVID-19, colds and flu (and some stockpiling because of the shortage) have meant children's Tylenol and Advil have flown off the shelves whenever they've been in stock.
As a result, Canadians have been reaching out to Facebook groups and friends and family overseas or in the States to get their hands on the meds.
The federal Conservatives are now calling for the government to allow pharmacies to re-label and sell kids' medicine with foreign-language labels.
In a scrum on Tuesday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Health Canada is "obviously concerned" and is talking to manufacturers, pharmacists and provinces about the issue. But asked parents not to stockpile, saying the "situation is under relative control."
With files from The Canadian Press