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Health concerns prompt calls from Alberta NDP to dump imported fever medicine from Turkey

Alberta’s Opposition says it’s time to dump the remaining bottles of imported Turkish children’s fever medicine, given new reports state the liquid clogs hospital feeding tubes and can put newborns at risk of severe illness.

NDP health critic Luanne Metz says Premier Danielle Smith’s government should check with health specialists to see if the medicine can safely be put to use somewhere else in the world but says regardless it’s time to end the experiment in Alberta.

“We really should not be using this in our emergency departments,” Metz, who is also a physician, said Wednesday in an interview.

“It’s certainly not preferred for a parent, who would get rid of it for sure, and we definitely should not be using it in [feeding] tubes.

“So where might there be a place that this would be a preferred treatment? I can’t see it.

“We probably should get rid of it.”

Metz made the comments in light of a Globe and Mail newspaper report published earlier Wednesday.

The story, citing internal government documents, illuminated concerns the imported Turkish acetaminophen, with its higher viscosity, clogged feeding tubes for fragile patients.

The tubes had to be flushed with water, and the higher volume of liquid put newborns at risk for necrotizing enterocolitis, which can cause damage to their intestines.

Alberta Health Services, in a statement Wednesday, confirmed the acetaminophen, known under the brand name Parol, was banned in neonatal intensive care units last spring and was used for two months in total before hospitals reverted to the regularly used medicines.

“No patients, including infants requiring neonatal intensive care, were injured or fell ill as a result of its use,” said AHS in the unsigned statement.

The medicine was part of a deal Alberta signed with Istanbul-based Atabay Pharmaceuticals for five million bottles of Parol and the ibuprofen known as Pedifen.

Smith herself announced the purchase at a news conference in late 2022, promising to alleviate a domestic shortage of children’s fever medication.

The purchase was immediately beset by delays as the province sought regulatory approval from Health Canada and sorted out packaging and warning labels.

By the time most of the first shipment of 1.5 million bottles had arrived in the spring of 2023, the domestic fever medication shortage was over.

The rest of the shipment never arrived.

Of those 1.5 million bottles, only about 9,000 were sent to hospitals and 4,700 to pharmacies in what critics have labelled a $75-million boondoggle, with taxpayers out tens of millions.

As soon as the medicine arrived, there were concerns that the comparatively lower dosage concentration of the Turkish medicine increased the risk of dosage errors. Pharmacists had to keep the medicine behind the counter to make sure customers who bought it were aware of the dosage change.

By the summer of 2023, AHS had already advised staff to switch back to the pre-existing medicines. However, last fall Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said Parol and Pedifen were not on the scrap heap, but would be kept in reserve for future emergencies.

LaGrange, asked Wednesday in an email if the Turkish medication could still be used in an emergency, declined to answer.

Instead she directed questions to Alberta Health Services.

AHS, in its statement, also declined to confirm the future of the two medicines while referring to them in the past tense.

“The additional supply of children’s pain medication provided assurance, long-term, for our stock of acetaminophen in AHS facilities at a time of a global shortage and high demand,” it said.

The clock is already ticking on the remaining supply. The Pedifen is set to expire in November 2025 and the Parol two months after that.

LaGrange, in her statement, reiterated past comments that the province bought the medicine with the best of intentions.

“We acted out of compassion and concern at a time when you could not find children’s medication on the shelves,” LaGrange wrote.

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