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Fire at Quebec plant threatens supply of painkillers, antibiotics

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A fire Sunday at a Quebec drug manufacturing plant threatens to place more strain on supplies of intravenous painkillers and antibiotics in Manitoba.

Gerry Delorme, director of the office of disaster management for Manitoba Health, said he’ll have a better idea what the impact on the province will be in the next 48 to 72 hours.

Sandoz Canada had already stopped or reduced production of 110 drugs at its Boucherville, Que., plant while it upgraded its manufacturing standards. It was carrying out the upgrades to satisfy American regulatory authorities that had threatened to block shipments to the U.S.

On Sunday, a fire broke out in the ceiling above the boiler room in one section of the plant. The company said in a statement posted on its website that production has been temporarily suspended and will "partially resume" during the week of March 12.

Last week, Manitoba officials said they expected the plant would be able to supply only 50 to 75 per cent of normal production of key drugs while it upgraded its facilities. Manitoba said it would seek other sources of supply until the plant’s production problems were rectified — a process that could take up to a year.

Then on Saturday, just a day before the fire, Manitoba received good news from Sandoz. The company said it had been able to secure drugs from other suppliers to pass on to its customers. Allocations had been set to rise to near-normal levels for some drugs, Delorme said.

"However, with the fire, we don’t know what the net effect will be," the Manitoba official said this morning.

Meanwhile, Delorme said, the province is making headway in finding outside suppliers for several key intravenous drugs. Most critical are drugs used in surgeries and for pain relief. He said the government hopes to sign contracts with some suppliers shortly.

Some hospitals in Quebec have already been forced to delay non-urgent surgeries because of the looming shortage of generic drugs from Sandoz.

But Manitoba is not in that situation yet, Delorme said. As well as identifying alternate suppliers, Manitoba is working on alternative therapies — including greater use of oral drugs — to better manage its existing supplies.

"We’re not in the same position as other provinces are in," Delorme said.

He also said that any impact from the fire will not be felt immediately in Manitoba. "The drugs that are going to be available for us for the next two weeks have already been produced and they were not affected by the fire," Delorme said.

Manitoba receives shipments on Mondays from Sandoz. Currently, it’s believed that the fire won’t affect shipments here until March 26.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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