Impact of Canada-wide anti-depressant shortage has Edmonton pharmacists worried

Several Edmonton pharmacists say they’re running low of a certain kind of anti-depressant — Wellbutrin — and they’re worried it may be an issue across Canada.

“It can be quite disheartening for patients because they finally found something that’s helping them cope,” said Suhas Thaleshvar, a registered pharmacist with The Medicine Shoppe.

“It is something that requires treatment… Psychologically, they need this medication to stay stable.”

A shortage of 300-milligram tablets of Wellbutrin XL (extended release) was reported in Canada as of Sept. 6. While the Health Canada website reports that was resolved on Nov. 6, some pharmacists haven’t received more stock.

The official website describes Wellbutrin as “a prescription medication used to treat adults with a certain type of depression called major depressive disorder, and for the prevention of autumn-winter seasonal depression (seasonal affective disorder.)”

“People are stressed about that one in particular,” Thaleshvar said.

He said some pharmacists are being forced to ration the small supply they have left. The 56 patients at his small pharmacy are having to share what’s left in his Wellbutrin stock.

“Literally, sometimes we’ve given four tablets and we’re trying to ration the needs as time goes on… Four days later, we give them more.

“We’re just trying to do our best to make sure everyone can stay treated,” Thaleshvar said.

Wellbutrin is offered in 150 mg and 300 mg tablets of both slow release and extended release doses. The short release provides steady dosage over an eight-hour period. The extended release provides a spike at the start of the dose followed by an extended release. It is made by the drug company Valeant.

Bausch Health emailed a statement to Global News to provide an update on the situation.

“We have begun the shipping process of Wellbutrin XL150 mg and Wellbutrin XL 300 mg and Canadian wholesalers will send the product to pharmacies seeking additional supply for patients, including those in Alberta, and they will receive it shortly, depending on delivery schedules,” Lainie Keller said.

Some pharmacists have been offering patients the slow-release option as an alternative to Wellbutrin XL. While generic drugs are an option, they’re not ideal.

“A lot of the time that’s not a problem, but it’s a problem now because not everybody switches,” psychiatrist Dr. Peter Silverstone said.

He found out about the Wellbutrin shortage last week from a family physician who’s having to switch to generic.

“It’s one of those drugs that really the generic is simply not as good in many cases. It’s twice a day as opposed to once a day and the way it’s released is different.

“There can be meaningful, clinical differences for patients who switch to generics,” Silverstone said.

He’s heard the generic variety is becoming short on supply as well.

Wellbutrin isn’t the strongest anti-depressant out there, but Silverstone says it has benefits unlike many others.

“What makes it unique is the range of conditions it can help with,” he explained. “It can help anxiety, depression, attention-deficit disorder, can help people stop smoking and it sometimes helps people with addictions.”

Out of the 10 Edmonton pharmacies Global News spoke with, two are completely out of both the generic and brand name Wellbutrin XL. The remaining eight pharmacies said Monday they have either the slow-release version or are offering a generic alternative.

“It’s a real tough situation,” Thaleshvar said.

Medical professionals are concerned how this shortage could affect patients in the long- and short-term.

“If you stop a mental health drug suddenly — or even slowly — it’s very possible that the original mental health symptoms may return,” Silverstone said.

He said a drug shortage is an issue for patients with anxiety or depression who have found a drug regime that works for them, which includes Wellbutrin.

“It’s going to be a major issue for you if you can’t get access to one of the key things that is keeping you well. That is a problem.”

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