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The backstory: Last year, it was reported that the UK and France were experiencing drug shortages, especially for paracetamol (an OTC painkiller) and amoxicillin (an antibiotic). With drug manufacturing done in different stages and sites all over the world, issues stemming from COVID, inflation from the war in Ukraine, higher energy costs and more have affected the supply chain. So the production process has hit a bottleneck.
More recently: Based on a survey of pharmaceutical groups in 29 European countries, almost a quarter said more than 600 drugs were in short supply, and 20% reported 200-300 drug shortages. Also, 75% said the shortages were worse this winter than the year before. For example, Italy is short on over 3,000 drugs. To minimize the issue, some countries, like Greece, Romania and Belgium, are limiting exporting drugs to keep domestic stocks up. But that could make things worse for neighboring countries.
The development: More shortages are likely if the prices of materials keep going up. This is because the price of generic drugs is regulated in the EU, so producers aren't really motivated to raise their output during a shortage if the price stays the same. In fact, according to Reuters, many firms aren't making enough money to justify making antibiotics at all. And now, doctors and pharmacists are calling on the European Commission to make legislation to prevent future drug shortages. They want more transparency when it comes to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which has not called this ongoing shortage a "major event," and the creation of a shortage monitoring platform based on shared data.
"The situation has been very bad over the years in all countries, and affecting all types of medicines," said Ilaria Passarani, Secretary General of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union representing community pharmacists. "For the past seven, eight years, we have seen the problem increase."
"You get what you pay for. With price being the decisive criterion in tenders, you are sending a message that security of supply, quality and environmental standards are less important," said Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.
"I think it will sort itself out, but that depends on the peak of infections," said Adrian van den Hoven, director general of the generics medicines lobby Medicines for Europe. "If we have reached the peak, supply will catch up quickly. If not, probably not a good scenario."
"We cannot keep this capped pricing when all of our production, logistics and regulatory compliance costs are increasing at double digits or more," said van den Hoven.