Australia faces drug shortage, TGA reports over 320 drugs affected

Australia is facing a growing drug shortage due to continued supply chain disruptions, prompting renewed calls to reduce the country’s near-total reliance on India and China for life-saving drugs.

Doctors and pharmacists are sounding the alarm that patients are at risk due to the worsening 321 drug crisis. currently listed Therapeutic Goods Administration as facing shortages – nearly 50 of which are rated critical – and 85 more are expected to add to the list.

Medications for diabetes, depression, anxiety, stroke, nausea, hormone replacement therapy and cancer treatments are among those currently or soon to be in short supply or out of reach.

Dr Katherine Hester, Vice Chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) in Queensland, said urgent action was needed.

“Shortages of some medicines are becoming a bigger problem in Australia, and they are really exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected international supply chains,” said Dr. Hester.

GPs are seeing more patients who tell them they can’t get the medicine they’ve been prescribed at the local pharmacy. GPs often have good relationships with pharmacies in their area and will work with them to help get the drugs their patients need if they struggle to find them. We can also sometimes find a substitute for a particular drug, but drugs are not easily interchangeable.”

Dr Hester said Australia needed to “address this with a long-term solution because when people go without the medicines they need, it can negatively affect their health and well-being.”

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) National President Dr Fei Sim said drug shortages have been a problem “for a long time” but the pandemic has put additional pressure on supply chains.

“The shortage affects a range of medicines, from over-the-counter cold and flu medicines to prescription drugs like the diabetes drug Ozempic,” she said.

“Demand for common medicines such as paracetamol is on the rise as Australians battle various illnesses.”

For new drugs delivery guarantee In the relationship between the federal government and pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers will be subject to minimum four to six month inventory holding requirements for certain key brands listed in the Pharmacist Benefit Scheme.

But the new rules won’t come into effect until July 1, 2023.

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Dr. Sim welcomed the guarantee, which would come with price increases for up to 900 different drugs, but said “more needs to be done to ensure a stable supply of PBS drugs.”

“Many people rely on these essential medicines for their health and well-being,” she said.

“PSA and the entire health sector are working with the Ministry of Health and the government to ensure a stable and uninterrupted supply of life-saving medicines. It is always best to work together with your pharmacists and doctor, if any medicine is not available, your medical team will work with you to ensure you have the best access to available care. Pharmacists will work with you if there is a shortage of over-the-counter drugs and offer alternatives.”

Acting President of the Pharmacy Guild Nick Panagiaris said The keeper the shortage brought out “a whole sovereign risk problem here.”

“We used to be major drug manufacturers in the country and unfortunately more and more of them have been lost, especially the generic drug industry, many of which are now based in India, China and so on,” he said.

“So the government needs to take a serious look at this, because it’s not just a commodity, it’s an essential medicine that basically keeps people alive.”

He added that pharmacies are “breaking down” over ready-made products such as liquid paracetamol as the winter cold and flu season coincides with another spike in Covid cases.

“We have increased demand for paracetamol and unfortunately this is now a huge problem for us at the pharmacy level in terms of having a critical drug that we really need when people are suffering the effects of Covid,” he said. said.

“At this point, it’s not certain when we’ll get a reasonable stock position with these things at the moment — it’s just a bit of Russian roulette, to be honest.”

Amid disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic, former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg turned to the Performance Commission last year. evaluate risks in the Australian supply chain.

The final report, released last August, concluded that while Australia’s supply chains have been disrupted by Covid and trade tensions, “most of the main supply chains have proven resilient.”

“While people are understandably wary of supply chains, only a few products that are sold are vulnerable,” Jonathan Koppel of the Productivity Commission said in a statement.

“Companies can usually manage these risks through hoarding, contracts and diversification.”

Australia imported 5,950 different items in 2016-17 worth $272 billion, or about 16 percent of gross national income.

Pharmaceuticals were the fifth largest category of imports at $10.6 billion after vehicles, machinery, electrical equipment and mineral fuels.

“At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns were raised by many about Australia’s reliance on imported active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and other pharmaceutical materials,” the statement said. report said.

Australia imports most of its pharmaceuticals from Europe and the US, which increasingly rely on APIs produced in India and China. As of 2017, China produced 40% of the world’s APIs, while India provided 20% of global generic drug exports.”

Production disruptions in India and China during the pandemic raised fears of shortages in Australia, leading to panic buying and stockpiling, and subsequent government-imposed purchasing restrictions.

“Despite concerns, the Australian pharmaceutical supply chain has been ‘robust and has stood up well to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic,'” the report said, citing material provided by Medicines Australia.

“There have also been reports of shortages of other medicines caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as hormone replacement therapy and antidepressants. However, this does not look like something out of the ordinary. The Australian Health Service noted that “drug shortage events, although perhaps more focused on products exposed to hospital and community stocks due to [Covid-19]did not increase in Australia in 2020.”

The Performance Commission stressed that drug shortages were common even before the pandemic, affecting patients, doctors and pharmacists.

“The combination of intense price competition (especially in the generics market) and lack of transparency in supply chains hinders the ability of companies to accurately assess (and therefore reward) good quality management and supply chain sustainability, leading to shortages,” the report said. said.

However, the Australian Institute for Comprehensive Economic Research (IIER-A) has previously warned that Australia is dangerously reliant on imported drugs.

In early 2020, IIER-A released a report highlighting that Australia imports over 90 percent of its medicines and is at the end of a very long global supply chain, making it vulnerable to disruptions.

“Australia is particularly vulnerable to drug shortages caused by factors beyond our control,” retired Air Vice Marshal John Blackburn and Ann Borzycki of IIER-A wrote. opinion at that time.

“These factors may include production problems, political instability, pandemics, another global economic crisis and natural disasters. Of particular concern is Australia’s just-in-time supply chains. While just-in-time makes good business sense, it leaves Australians vulnerable to disruptions in the supply chain, whether unintentional or intentional.”

AT October 2021 In an IIER-A report calling Australia a “complacent country”, the group warned that the pursuit of cost-effectiveness has led to a significant undermining of our health care systems and their resilience as our country has gradually lost manufacturing capacity to the point where we now import more over 90 percent of our medicines and virtually all of our personal protective equipment.”

“This happened without providing sufficient buffers in times of crisis through stockpiling mandates,” the report says. “Lower prices in normal times can be very costly in a crisis.”

Health Secretary Mark Butler was contacted for comment.

Originally published as ‘Growing problem’: Australia faces shortage of more than 320 medicines