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Countries face growing drugs shortage with older medicines among most vulnerable

Drug shortages are impacting many countries.
Drug shortages are impacting many countries. Copyright AP Illustration/Jenni Sohn
Copyright AP Illustration/Jenni Sohn
By Euronews with AP
Published on Updated
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A US expert discusses the growing problem of drug shortages and which medicines are impacted.

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Many countries have been experiencing increasing medicine shortages, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the problem.

In the United States, active drug shortages hit an all-time high of 323 in this year’s first quarter, according to the University of Utah Drug Information Service, up around 86 per cent from a 10-year low of 174 last reached in 2017.

A statement last week from the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU), meanwhile, highlighted doctors' and pharmacists' concerns about a rise in drug shortages in Europe.

The group's annual survey also found that drug shortages affected all European countries in 2023 and worsened compared to 2022 in most countries.

Shortages typically impact generic drugs

An expert told the Associated Press that some of the root causes of the shortages have not yet been solved.

Erin Fox, the associate chief pharmacy officer at the University of Utah Health, said US regulators halted inspections, for instance, during the pandemic and are now finding issues to fix at some factories.

Shortages typically impact "generic, injectable hospital drugs or older drugs," said Fox.

"They are usually pretty low cost. There’s not a lot of resilience in the supply chain for another company to make up the difference," Fox added.

Experts told Euronews Health last year that pharmaceutical companies make less money from generic drugs and do not keep stocks of these medicines as well.

Fox says that sometimes a treatment is delayed or a patient may have to take a capsule instead of a pill.

"Don’t panic. It’s frustrating to have to do a little bit of work, but usually you will still be able to get a treatment," Fox said.

In the US, she said, there have been several hearings on shortages with policymakers showing more interest in the topic.

"People are really starting to talk about doing hard work both on the policy side but also maybe a little bit of Congressional action to really try to move this problem forward," she said.

The European Commission, meanwhile, announced a set of measures in October concerning the drugs shortages.

It included a voluntary mechanism to redistribute medicines among EU member states if necessary and a Critical Medicines Alliance to identify supply problems and better react to shortages.

Video editor • Ines Trindade Pereira

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