Kiwis hit by medication shortages

Pills supplied over the internet. Photo by Linda Robertson.
File photo: Linda Robertson
Pharmacists and doctors in New Zealand are scrambling to find ways to manage global medication shortages because of Covid-19.

The shortages affect hundreds of thousands of patients who are having to adjust prescriptions or switch to alternative medications.

Drugs in short supply include four contraceptive pills, hormone replacement therapy, an inhaler used by asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease sufferers, blood pressure medications and anti-Parkinson's drugs.

Pharmaceutical Society vice president Rhiannon Braund said it was a huge workload for pharmacists.

"About three times as much, and they're dealing with patients who are unhappy. Trying to work with GPs and source alternatives is a challenging process."

Royal College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty, who is a former deputy medical director of Pharmac, said he wanted the drug buyer to improve its communication amidst global medication shortages.

"Pharmac needs to open up its channels of communication so we can start to prepare for it and think about it and solutions and it needs clear explanations as to why/why not some medicines are available and whether there will be alternatives if we know they are in place."

Covid distributions to medicinal supply chains is concerning for health professionals and hundreds of thousands of patients are having to adjust prescriptions or switch to alternative medications.

He said Pharmac needed to better inform general practices.

In a statement, Pharmac director of operations Lisa Williams said: "We recognise and acknowledge this situation will be disruptive for some people. We are working closely with our suppliers to try to minimise the length of out of stocks and will be updating our website with more information as it becomes available."

She said in most cases, Covid-19 has been the cause of this impact on medicine and medical device supply chains. And said the pandemic would cause continued global impacts on medicine manufacturing and supply chains for the remainder of 2020 and beyond.

Pharmac medication advisory

Pfizer, the supplier of Brevinor 1/28 and Norimin, has advised Pharmac that they continue to have manufacturing delays for both these oral contraceptives. They are now not expected to be back in stock until mid-February 2021. Approximately 9000 women take Brevinor 1/28 and approximately 16,000 women take Norimin/Necon/Brevinor.

Some pharmacies may still have stock of the temporary alternative brands Necon or Brevinor to replace Norimin to fill prescriptions, but this will be limited and unevenly distributed across the country. Stock of Necon or Brevinor was expected to be exhausted by mid-October when Norimin was initially expected back in New Zealand.

There may be more Necon that can be made available to cover the prolonged stock shortage of Norimin and we will provide more information about that as soon as possible.

Pfizer has been unable to source an alternative brand that is chemically equivalent to Brevinor 1/28, and Pharmac issued a media release about this last month.

"Pharmac are in touch with Pfizer about the ongoing security of supply of these oral contraceptives, and you may wish to talk with them about this. They can be contacted on 0800 736 363.

"We encourage people taking these oral contraceptives who need more to go back to their prescriber to discuss alternative contraceptive options.

"Several alternative funded contraceptives are listed on the Pharmaceutical Schedule including other oral contraceptives, barrier and long acting reversible contraceptives.

"The supplier of Pharmac funded oestradiol patches Estradot, Novartis, has advised Pharmac that, due to Covid-19 related delays, they don't expect to have Estradot patches back in stock until December. To ensure patients can continue treatment with hormone replacement therapy Pharmac said it would be funding some alternative brands."

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