Tylenol Shortage: How Far Parents Go For Medicine

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

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

Since June, Goddard has struggled to find pain and fever medication for her children in Mississauga, Ont., where she lives. While her five-year-old son and two daughters, aged three and one, are not feverish, Goddard said she always wishes she had medication on hand.

“I hate feeling helpless,” she said.

Goddard is one of many Canadians who have written to CTVNews.ca about the difficulty in finding pain and fever medication for their children. Struggling to find medicine, many parents go to great lengths to get what they can.

Goddard is among those who ask friends and family for help by researching stores and buying what they can find. Others said they had visited pharmacies that prepared acetaminophen produced by lab technicians, but had to pay more for the drug. Some families have resorted to purchasing medication outside of Canada.

CTVNews.ca had asked Canadians to share how the drug shortage was affecting their families. Not all email responses have been independently verified.

The Ontario Pharmacists Association sounded the alarm over cold and flu drug shortages in Canada in July. High demand and supply chain issues are blamed for affecting the availability of pain and fever medicines for infants and children, such as children’s liquid Tylenol. The shortages also prompted the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to send a letter to patients and caregivers informing them of potential difficulties in accessing liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Tylenol is the brand name for acetaminophen, 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 than needed for infants and children. Health Canada also advises patients to consult with doctors and pharmacists about other options in the event of a drug shortage and to check the Canada’s Drug Shortages website for shortages reported by manufacturers. Health Canada’s website reported shortages of infant acetaminophen chewable tablets and tempra drops, as well as other children’s medications. Shortages occur when a drug manufacturer is unable to meet the demand for a specific drug.

In order to help his 16-month-old daughter overcome her symptoms of COVID-19, which included a cough and runny nose, Branden Johnston used smaller doses of medication intended for older children. His wife is a pediatric nurse, who was able to calculate the correct dosage for their daughter, he said. But for parents without that prior knowledge or experience, attempting to do that math at home can be dangerous, he said.

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

“It was incredibly hard 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 available [we] should see a doctor for a prescription to repackage the larger [adult or children’s] sizes in a dose suitable for the small.

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

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


Ellen Patterson works at a compounding pharmacy in Lindsay, Ontario, where she and other pharmacists compound acetaminophen as a concentrated liquid that parents can buy. The pain and fever medications are packaged in different sizes and come with a dosage guide based on the size of the child. Although a prescription isn’t necessary, the drug is offered behind the counter, meaning it’s administered by a pharmacist rather than sold off the shelf, Patterson said.

In recent weeks, more parents than usual have been heading to the pharmacy looking for painkillers for their children, she said.

“We are a small store in a small town [and] we see people who are not our normal clientele,” Patterson told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Wednesday.

In an email to CTVNews.ca on Thursday, a spokesperson for Haleon, the maker of Advil, wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic and an “unprecedented” cold and flu season contributed to “a significant increase viral diseases” in Canada. . As a result, the company has seen an increase in demand for pediatric pain relief products, including Children’s Advil.

“This significant increase 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 buy only what is necessary so that all parents and caregivers can access the product they need to care for their loved ones.”

Johnson & Johnson Inc., the maker of Tylenol, also told CTVNews.ca that it was seeing higher than normal demand for some of its products when asked to confirm shortages of Tylenol drugs for infants and children. .

“We continue to experience increased consumer demand with 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.”

While some pharmacies are grappling with a shortage of off-the-shelf children’s medications, Patterson said products offered by compounding pharmacies may be another option for parents.

In some pharmacies, however, the drugs are not offered free of charge. Lindsay Haggarty said she had been struggling to find children’s liquid Tylenol for her son for months. After visiting a compounding pharmacy near her home in Calgary, she said she paid $27 for a 100 milliliter bottle.

Comparatively, stores like Walmart sell 100-milliliter bottles of children’s liquid Tylenol for around $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’s very concerning that we can’t get Tylenol for the kids.”

Other parents, like Alina Smirnova, had to rely on medication shipped from outside the country to get by. Her nine-month-old son was recently diagnosed with roseola, a childhood illness that caused his fever to soar to nearly 39°C.

Given her son’s negative reaction to liquid Tylenol, Smirnova had to give him suppositories, she said. But despite visiting many pharmacies near her home in Montreal, she could not find any medicine for her baby.

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

“We went to five or six pharmacies around our house and nothing was available,” she told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday in a phone interview. “I don’t think it’s until you have kids [that] you realize how serious the situation is.

Now Smirnova’s parents are asking if she wants them to buy more medicine before they 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 are stocking up,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish that on any other parent.”

Finally, some parents cope with the shortage by simply being persistent, calling and visiting as many pharmacies as possible. After calling seven different pharmacies on B.C.’s Saanich Peninsula on Tuesday, Liz George had no luck finding infant or children’s Tylenol for her sick 11-month-old and nine-year-old children. she said.

She did, however, hear from two pharmacies with another brand of acetaminophen in stock for infants. After hanging up the phone, she quickly went to the pharmacy and grabbed the last bottle in stock, she said.

“The person at the counter said she was surprised there was anything!” 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