Aussies still struggling with critical medicine shortages post-Covid

Feb 05, 2021
Medicine shortages are not new, but the pandemic has definitely worsened the situation. Source: Getty.

Australians continue to find it hard to get their hands on life-saving medicines, so much so that some are taking drastic measures, such as rationing doses until they can get a prescription filled, or paying more for essential medication.

News of ongoing drug shortages across Australia first came to light last month, after ABC News published a story on the concerning matter. According to the news site, medicines used to treat hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, or allergies are among drugs still in short supply or simply unavailable as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And researchers are predicting it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

This got us wondering how many Australians are still being affected from medicine shortages as a result of the ongoing pandemic, so we asked readers from the Starts at 60 community to share their thoughts.

‘I’m taking lower doses’

Elissa from Tasmania said that instead of paying $5.60 for her usual blood pressure tablets, she’s had to fork out an extra $15 for an alternative medicine, which she says “is unbelievable” as she’s on the Age Pension.

Meanwhile, Paula says she’s been rationing doses, “I am taking lower doses to try to make mine last. The alternate drug is out of stock as well now. I managed to get a month’s worth, but [it’s] out of stock again [until] July. These are for BP [blood pressure].”

Elizabeth said, “The chemist [says] if I pay an extra fee, I will get it quicker.”

Ki added that she’s been unable to get her preferred asthma medication; while Val said her husband had to change his blood pressure meds, as the ones he’s been taking for years are now not available.

However, the shortages haven’t impacted everyone, as Wendy, who’s a diabetic, has had no problems getting her medication. Carol, who takes hydroxychloroquine (most people know it by its brand name Plaquenil) for lupus, said she had a shortage struggle for a while, but everything seems to be back to normal now.

Noelene added, “So far so good, with no problems for me.”

Others called on the Australian Government to stop relying so much on overseas production. “It wouldn’t hurt us to become self sufficient in a lot of goods,” one person said. And Diana questioned, “Why can’t they be made here? We have the resources, surely.”

So why are there shortages?

Well, according to news site, medicine shortages are not new, as most of our drugs come from overseas. “When our medicines come from a global supply chain – where raw ingredients are made in one country, processed into medicines in another, then freighted by sea or air to Australia – a single break in the supply chain can result in medicines going out of stock,” the news site noted.

It added that the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation, which is probably why more people are now noticing the shortages. “And when we restrict the number of flights into Australia, that prevents medicines from arriving.”

When asked what the Australian Government is doing to fix the problem, a Department of Health spokesperson told Starts at 60, “The Department of Health has taken strong action to manage problems with medicine supply and provide accurate, up-to-date information about shortages reported by sponsors, so that patients, doctors and pharmacists are aware of any impact. Medicine shortages occur for many reasons, but pharmaceutical companies must report any impending shortages of reportable medicines to the TGA. Information provided by the medicine sponsors when notifying a shortage is published on the TGA website.”

What happens if your medication is out of stock?

If there is a shortage of your medication, the best thing to do is speak with your pharmacist or doctor, says. They should be able to supply you with the next best alternative, whether that means a different brand of medicine using the same ingredients, an alternate strength of the same medicine or a different medicine altogether.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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Have you been affected? Is your local pharmacist out of stock of your usual medicine?

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