Vital medicines including antibiotics and Xanax continue to be in short supply in Ireland, with 248 such drugs now on the shortages list — a 48% rise over a year.
Among medications in short supply are commonly used tablets to treat anxiety including 250mcg Xanax tablets and an injection emulsion containing Diazepam, with generic replacements also in short stock. Manufacturing and shipping delays have been blamed.
Also on the shortages lists are seven types of amoxicillin antibiotic with only two expected back in supply this month while others are projected to remain out of stock until the summer.
Several high blood pressure medicines and non-prescription medication used to treat cold weather illnesses are still in short supply following the surge in demand earlier this winter. The latter includes five types of Benylin cough syrup.
The national shortages list, published by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, shows 13 products which are seen as “critical medicines” by the World Health Organization.
Analysis of the shortages list by Azure Pharmaceuticals, which supplies older niche medicines to the Irish market, shows reliance on a small number of suppliers, the company said.
It found 38% of out-of-stock medicines have one supplier, which differs from the rest of Europe where 25% of medicines have one supplier typically.
CEO Sandra Gannon said the “persistent shortages” show this is not a seasonal issue and she argued that raising the cost of medicines in Ireland is a solution the Government should consider.
“Very low prices might appear to be an advantage but that is actually a false positive because the lower the prices, the less attractive the market is for manufacturers,” she said. “This can leave only few suppliers for some critical medicines.
“Over one-third of the 248 out-of-stock medicines in Ireland are single-source suppliers and there is immense price pressures on medicines in the lowest price segment.
“One of the means we have to protect our domestic supply of stock, to prevent these important medicines from running out, is through pricing.”
She said other European countries, including Portugal and the UK, have taken policy measures to adjust “uncompetitive pricing of medicines” through raising the prices.
Answering questions in the Dáil, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “There is no evidence to suggest that Ireland is more adversely affected by the current global medicine shortage than anywhere else.
“The HPRA has said we are experiencing fewer shortages than many other European countries, despite the fact that demand for some medicines has been two or three times greater.”
He said the Department of Health is examining how a serious shortages protocol, as called for by the Irish Pharmacy Union, might work here.