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French health groups put forward proposals to limit the damage of worsening drug shortages

Medicines such as cough syrup, lozenges and ointment are seen on a table in an apartment in Berlin, Tuesday, December 20, 2022.
Medicines such as cough syrup, lozenges and ointment are seen on a table in an apartment in Berlin, Tuesday, December 20, 2022. Copyright Stephanie Pilick/dpa via AP
Copyright Stephanie Pilick/dpa via AP
By Lauren Chadwick
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Pharmaceutical companies’ lack of transparency leads to rising drug prices and less control over public resources, the group of health organisations say.

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A group of French organisations have called for more transparency from pharmaceutical companies as drug shortages increase.

In a joint report, 14 civil society organisations outlined their recommendations to solve a “situation that has only worsened” since 2018.

The French medicines regulator signalled 4,925 drug shortages in 2023, compared to 3,761 in 2022 and 2,160 in 2021.

A 2024 survey from France Assos Santé, which represents patients, found that 44 per cent of people in France said they had faced a drug shortage this year.

One of the pharmacy unions in France has even planned a strike at the end of the month over drug shortages and what they say is worsening access to care.

Each health organisation contributed an article with recommendations for dealing with the drug shortages.

The League Against Cancer urged complete transparency on drug shortages and potential substitutions for health professionals.

They also called for monitoring of medicine stocks and their location in the country to guarantee equal access.

The organisation found in a survey published in February that 78 per cent of health professionals in oncology had been faced with a drug shortage.

Drug shortages or delays have led to anxiety among cancer patients, lost time, and worsening symptoms, the organisation said.

France Assos Santé, meanwhile, wrote that an urgent response should not be to support “the industrial sector which bears serious responsibilities” for abandoning the production of less profitable drugs, relocating drug production, and keeping insufficient medicine stocks.

They would like any cost increases justified by production costs or the risk of withdrawing a drug from the market due to it being unprofitable. They called for cost evaluations to be made public.

Their concerns also range from the use of public money to bring drug production to Europe to new government plans to prevent shortages.

Some changes at the EU level criticised

Last year, the European Commission announced several measures to reform the pharmaceutical industry and address critical drug shortages.

The European Parliament went on to adopt a position on pharmaceutical reform last month, that included “incentives for innovation” and an effort to limit overuse of antibiotics.

The non-profit organisation Prescrire, which focuses on information about medicine, wrote in a chapter they contributed to the report that while some of the European Commission’s measures were welcome, others were concerning.

One of the many measures they rejected included the Commission’s proposal to reduce the number of days of scientific evaluation of drugs from 210 to 180, which they said was necessary time rather than an “administrative obstacle”.

While the NGO welcomed some measures such as government drug shortage prevention plans, it said the Commission should allow EU states to require pharmaceutical companies to have safety stocks of medicine and sanction those that do not respect them.

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French consumer organisation UFC-Que Choisir and the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said that they had hoped MEPs would shorten the length of time for “data protection” to allow generic medicines to be marketed more quickly.

Instead, MEPs approved shortening the period to 7.5 years, “which is almost the same duration as the current 8 years [yet] within the framework of the text adopted by Parliament, companies can gain additional months of protection under certain conditions to reach a total of 8.5 years,” UFC-Que Choisir said.

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