The drugs we just can­not get enough of

The Dominion Post - - Front Page - RACHEL THOMAS

Drugs to treat de­pres­sion, Parkin­son’s dis­ease, head lice, sca­bies and mi­graines ran out 11 times over four years, and oth­ers have been in short sup­ply 211 times in the past six years, Phar­mac fig­ures re­veal.

The short­ages mean some pa­tients have to pick up sup­plies ev­ery week as they trickle in.

‘‘It’s a mas­sive pain in the a..., and it puts a lot of pres­sure on the phar­macy,’’ Welling­ton phar­ma­cist Ben Latty said.

‘‘The gut feel­ing is [short­ages are] get­ting worse and cre­at­ing more headaches on a weekly ba­sis.’’

Among the 211 medicine short­ages were anti-psy­chotics, steroids, mor­phine pills, preg­nancy tests and oral food re­place­ments.

In 11 cases from 2013 to 2016, stocks of Phar­mac-funded drugs ran out and pa­tients had to switch to dif­fer­ent medicines, or sig­nif­i­cantly change the way they took them, such as chang­ing from a pill to an in­jec­tion.

While such cases were rare, chang­ing drugs could be dan­ger­ous, an Auck­land phar­ma­cist said.

‘‘Chang­ing med­i­ca­tion be­cause of a short­age is quite harm­ful to them, be­cause it’s not guar­an­teed to work, and ev­ery­one re­sponds dif­fer­ently.’’

The fig­ures were re­leased by drug-buy­ing agency Phar­mac un­der the Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion Act.

Phar­mac’s di­rec­tor of en­gage­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion, Jude Ur­lich said: ‘‘It is im­por­tant to note that, in these sit­u­a­tions, peo­ple have still been able to get the treat­ment they need, and there hasn’t been a health im­pact on them, al­though there may have been some in­con­ve­nience in ob­tain­ing their medicines.’’

Sup­ply prob­lems were gen­er­ally be­yond the agency’s con­trol. ‘‘Changes in in­ter­na­tional de­mand for medicines, man­u­fac­tur­ing short­ages, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters or changes in reg­u­la­tory rules in other coun­tries can all have flow-on ef­fects to sup­ply in New Zealand.’’

A Welling­ton phar­ma­cist said the sup­ply of nu­tri­tional powder En­sure dipped so low ear­lier this year that he was able to give pa­tients only one can a week.

‘‘We had an al­lo­ca­tion of three cans a week and one can would only last some­one four or five days. If a cou­ple of peo­ple are on it, then you have to do a can a week ... you do what you can.’’

He said Phar­mac was ‘‘pretty good’’ when it came to warn­ings about drug short­ages but some­times the first sign would be dwin­dling stock.

‘‘These are pretty ma­jor drugs peo­ple rely on, but I get the feel­ing their ten­der process is a bit ruth­less.’’ Welling­ton phar­ma­cist Ben Latty

‘‘Some­times we will send an or­der and get a re­ply say­ing the or­der can’t be filled and it’s out of stock, and some­times that’s the first we know about it.’’

On­go­ing prob­lems have oc­curred with the com­monly pre­scribed beta-blocker meto­pro­lol, used to treat high blood pres­sure.

Latty, who has been in the in­dus­try for seven years, blamed the Phar­mac ten­der process, by which the sole, cheap­est sup­plier of a medicine is awarded the exclusive con­tract for New Zealand.

‘‘These are pretty ma­jor drugs peo­ple rely on, but I get the feel­ing their ten­der process is a bit ruth­less. The world is pretty en­vi­ous of the Phar­mac model and it keeps the cost of medicines down but it does have those down­falls.’’

Ur­lich said Phar­mac laid out rules that sup­pli­ers had to be able to meet de­mand and, if they could not, they had to meet the costs of find­ing a re­place­ment.

‘‘By sign­ing an agree­ment with Phar­mac, a sup­plier ac­cepts re­spon­si­bil­ity to main­tain on­go­ing sup­ply. These con­tracts mean New Zealand ex­pe­ri­ences sig­nif­i­cantly fewer stock out­ages com­pared to other coun­tries.’’

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