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Shortage of common anti-depressant leaves Greater Victoria pharmacies scrambling

Langford pharmacist Harish Sharma recently saw limited supply sell out in hours
Harish Sharma, owner of the Medicine Shoppe Pharamcy on Jacklin Road in Langford, said he was lucky to get a small supply of Wellbutrin XL in for his patients. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

A commonly prescribed anti-depressant drug is in short supply nationally again and local pharmacies are struggling to secure enough for their customers.

There has been a lack of Wellbutrin XL – one of the trade names for bupropion, used to treat depressive disorders – since July 8 due to a surge in demand, according to the federal government’s drug supply website.

Harish Sharma, owner of the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy on Jacklin Road in Langford, said he was lucky to get in a supply of this extended-release version of the drug on Aug. 4. When he checked the supplier’s website in the morning, there were 800 bottles and he was able to buy 10 to cover his clients’ needs. But when he checked the website again a few hours later, the stock had completely sold out.

“800 bottles seems like a lot, but across however many – hundreds of pharmacies – (who) might need some, it goes fast.”

Sharma’s pharmacy is relatively new in the area and he has a smaller client list than some, but the pandemic has still created challenges with managing stock, he said. People would ask for a year’s supply of a medication when the pandemic was first declared, but Sharma said he avoided doing that as it would have created shortages and left other customers without. Instead they gave patients only a month’s supply in some cases.

In general those fluctuations have mostly settled down, he said. But managing supply, including ensuring medications in short supply are spread out between customers who need them, or making alternatives available, is a regular part of pharmacy work, Sharma added.

In the case of Wellbutrin XL, Sharma said, its slow-release formulation as a coated tablet means it cannot be split into half doses, making it tougher to spread among more customers.

Iriny Serabana, pharmacy manager at Langford Pharmachoice on Peatt Road, also pointed out that as there are not a lot of similar drugs available, finding appropriate substitutes can be difficult.

The 2020 Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health found 15 per cent of Canadians screened positive for major depressive disorder, twice as many as pre-pandemic, according to a 2021 report from the Public Health Agency of Canada on the mental health impacts of the pandemic. People who reported five or more COVID-19 risk factors were nearly 30 times more likely to have major depressive disorder.

While the estimated end date for the Wellbutrin XL shortage is Sept. 15, Serabana said she’s seen such dates fluctuate with other medications in the past.

This isn’t the first time this version of the drug has been in short supply, as multiple reported shortages have occurred since 2018. Black Press Media has reached out to the drug’s manufacturer, Bausch Health, for comment.

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