Europe faced with the shortage of medicines

Preparers distribute amoxicillin in capsules at the Delpech pharmacy in Paris on January 13, 2023.

“I’ve already visited five pharmacies and I can’t find any pediatric syrup for my baby. I have never seen such a situation! », worries Maria Andrionikou. Alongside this mother of two young children, in Greece, a forty-year-old regrets not having made reservations: “My son has asthma and I’m worried that I can’t find Ventolin,” she explains. Panic reigns in this pharmacy in a suburb of Athens, from where the two women have just emerged empty-handed.

In front of the pharmacy, a queue has formed, a cruel witness to the food shortage affecting the country. “I don’t know what to say to the panicked patients who come all the time because they can’t find antibiotics, antidiabetics, syrups or pediatric medicines.sighs Eftychia Kouteli, the pharmacist. I recommend that, when possible, they take generics, but we also lack them in some cases. »

The scene could just as well have taken place in France, Germany, the United Kingdom… It says a lot about the drug shortages that have affected Europe for several months. Due to differences in methods and criteria, which vary significantly from one European country to another, the situation across the continent remains difficult to assess.

“Exponential Breaks”

The counters of the national health authorities which publicly list the shortages, however, make it possible to appreciate, in part, the extent. In Spain, 672 drugs are currently out of stock in pharmacies. They are 773 in Switzerland, 375 in Estonia, more than 3,000 in Italy – which also includes products whose marketing has been discontinued during the last decade. In France, as of January 23, the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) listed on its website nearly 320 drugs of major therapeutic interest in high tension.

The phenomenon is not new. But it worries more and more the actors of the sector, who see the interruptions of supply multiplying year after year. In 2019, the ANSM thus listed 1,504 reports in France for the whole of the year. Two years later, this figure reached 2,160 reports, an increase of 43%.

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These situations are the result of supply difficulties, the reasons for which are varied. The drug manufacturing chain is complex and all it takes is one step problem to stop it. Contamination during the formulation of the product or the absence of an ingredient can slow down or stop all production. The relocation in recent decades of the manufacture of active ingredients, which makes manufacturers dependent on foreign suppliers, has reinforced the fragility of this chain. However, 80% of the active ingredients used in Europe are manufactured outside the continent, mainly in China, and 40% of the medicines sold are produced outside the Union. But, in recent months, tensions on all products have worsened, especially for pediatric drugs such as paracetamol and amoxicillin.

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