Pandemic panic buying means hundreds of medications are in short supply

The Therapeutic Goods Administration says 572 medications are in short supply.

pharmacist looking for medicines

People panic buying medication during the pandemic has led to a shortage of around 600 medicines, including many used to treat life-threatening and chronic conditions.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) says 572 medications are in short supply, including Ventolin, breast cancer medicine Tamoxifen and the flu shot.

Shortages in Ventolin and other ongoing supply shortages in pharmacies have been exacerbated by a reduction in output from factories in China and India

Many patients are finding it difficult to get prescription drugs for chronic conditions.

“Understandably, patients are fearful and unsure of the future,” said Advantage Group chief Steven Kastrinakis.

“Demand for certain pharmaceutical items have been high, and remain so, for specific items.

“Even now as we observe a flattening of the curve for new COVID-19 cases, we’re still seeing massive stock shortages.

“Over-the-counter shelves are still empty for specific supplies. Basic painkillers, feminine hygiene products, hand-washing products and asthma puffers just to name a few, are still extremely difficult to get a hold of.

“Pharmacists and their teams are not only having to deal with the legislative and workflow changes surrounding this pandemic, but also the enormous pressure and complaints from the public due to stock shortages, purchase limitations and the different ways services are being delivered during this unprecedented period.

“Front-line pharmacy teams are dealing with all of these simultaneously on a daily basis and it can take its toll.”

National president of The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis, said he had never seen so many medications out of stock.

“It’s definitely bigger than it has been for a while, but there was a large number of medications in short supply before COVID-19,” said Mr Tambassis.

“You can call it a shortage, a temporary or urgent shortage, but at the end of the day, if I can’t dispense it to a patient, that’s to worry about.”

Australia imports around 90 per cent of its medicines – about 22 per cent from the US. While the US is our biggest supplier, most pharmaceutical ingredients still come from China and India.

Reduced production from China and India have been big contributors to dwindling local supplies, but delays in international freight flights have also exacerbated the issue.

Panic buying has made it even worse.

When the pandemic hit, the number of prescriptions written by doctors almost doubled from 200,000 to just under 400,000 in April, The New Daily reported.

There are now ‘stock-outs’ across the nation, and specific medications can only be found in select pharmacies.

Pharmacies and GPs are mitigating supply shortages by implementing strict policies on how much medication can be prescribed.

“It is our priority to ensure every Australian has access to their vital medicines across the nation during these challenging times – for those fighting COVID-19 in our hospitals and those in the community living with chronic and ongoing health conditions,” said Medicines Australia chief Elizabeth de Somer.

“We have been deeply concerned to hear reports of patients being unable to access their brands of medicines during this crisis.

“It’s important now for everyone involved in the supply of medicines to Australians to continue to work together to ensure access to our vital medicines is managed responsibly and equitably across the country.

“It is not the time for diversions or exercises that don’t bring solutions – it’s about getting on with it and ensuring we are directing all of our efforts to the task as a fully functioning, productive team.”

Advantage Group chief Mr Kastrinakis said pharmacies were working in a variety of ways to provide essential services to patients.

“Australia has never dealt with a pandemic at this scale and pharmacies, being an essential frontline service, must continue to operate and support the community while going through significant changes,” he said.

“Working collaboratively with business partners, suppliers and pharmacy members is a key enabler to maintaining stability across the whole supply chain, and inventory management is critical during this period.

“We’re also suggesting that signage is clearly displayed in multiple places around the pharmacy.

“Simple signs indicating that only one month of prescription medication is allowed at a time; not to be alarmed that staff may be wearing masks and gloves and signs to say bad behaviour will not be tolerated all help communicate clearly before customers approach the counter.

“We’ve seen multiple examples of where signage has exacerbated difficulties. We’re seeing patients who are dealing with stress, anxiety, impatience and are maybe not used to the changes in the way the pharmacy operates in these times. Clear communication is even more crucial right now.”

Regardless, the global supply issue won’t go away any time soon, said Pharmacy Guild chief Mr Tambassis.

“This is why restrictions to supply are so important,” he said.

“So people don’t think one thing is good for them in Timbuktu and then someone in Perth misses out.”

The TGA is working to find solutions.

“The TGA is closely monitoring the national supply of medicines and working with health professional, manufacturers and wholesaler groups to identify and manage issues as they arise,” a TGA spokesperson said.

“When potential shortfalls in supply are identified, management actions may include expediting deliveries, sourcing overseas alternatives or increasing manufacturing.”

Have you got your necessary medications? Did you stockpile medicines at the outset of the pandemic?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    4th May 2020
    Perhaps we should manufacture more in Australia ,will they ever learn.
    4th May 2020
    In the mid 60's to mid 70's when I worked as a secretary in a small firm which imported installed and serviced industrial equipment of various types there were 30 international pharmaceutical companies manufacturing in Australia and only one of the 30 was an Australian firm. The majority of these companies were domiciled in NSW. Reading this article it is devastating that practically all manufacturing of pharmaceuticals is happening in overseas countries these days. Just shows how much greed there is in these companies to use cheap labour overseas and deprive Australians of jobs. Its not just the pharmaceutical companies that do it, whole industries of various varieties and goods are made in China, India, etc. There is a little glimmer that Australian manufacturers are putting their thinking caps on and producing goods like masks and shields etc and hand sanitizers and the like. Lets hope it goes a lot further once the pandemic is under control.
    4th May 2020
    I thought the same thing , floss. Why do we always have to rely on another copuntry that we have a delicate relationshiop with for these essential items. And why are pharmacies allowing the panic buying, why are people panic buying in the first place for drugs that are in no way comnected to covid. Bad as buying bloody toilet rolls. Did thery think the factories will stop making them, idiots.
    4th May 2020
    Yes FrankC and there are a couple of billionaires worried that we are going to upset that delicate relationship and stuff Australia.
    7th May 2020
    We need to re-think the whole idea that it's best to manufacture in a developing country because of cheaper labour, instead of considering QUALITY and reliable, regulated supply in Australia as more important (not to mention how it will boost Australia's employment, economy and self-reliance).

    Another factor is all that unnecessary fossil fuel burning to transport overseas goods to us.

    As you rightly say, WStation, we're talking about turning the world order on its head. But now is probably the only opportunity we'll get.
    4th May 2020
    In regard to prescription medicines, pharmacies should never have been dispensing more than one month at a time without a good reason. I have, in the past, got extra when I've been going away on holiday, particularly overseas but I went in a couple of weeks ago to prick up a script and asked for another script to be filled while I was there. I was 6 days short of the supply running out and they told me to come back next week. I agree completely with that. If they had all been doing that from the beginning we wouldn't have as great a problem as we do now.
    4th May 2020
    Seem like another valurable lesson that might be learnt from this C19 matter - reduce the 'just in time' attitudes and have more than one supplier.
    4th May 2020
    We came to Vietnam 1 Feb for what was meant to be 4 months caring for our 7yo niece whose father (my wife's brother) had died, and I had 5 months worth of prescription medication in my case. But CV-19 restrictions in Australia and Vietnam, including our niece's school closing early, have combined to make it look as though we'll be lucky to get out of here before the end of this year - even though VN has one of the best records for containing CV-19 in the world (260 infections, 0 deaths in a population of 100 million and right next door to China, where it all started).
    So I started to buy 'back-up' medication locally and quickly found some items not available - so tried to contact my specialist in Sydney but he was in isolation with CV-19! I've now finally managed to get hold of acceptable substitute prescription medication for hypertension (telmisartan i/o olmesartan) so should now last until November - but there's no guarantee our friends and family in HCMC, Can Tho and Vung Tau will be able to continue the magnificent work they did to collectively find, buy and deliver the additional medication (despite transport restrictions) if travel bans extend beyond the end of this year.
    Lesson #1 for travellers - have a good support network in place (not always easy, but preparation helps...) and always expect the unexpected!
    4th May 2020
    I also am on hypertension medication and it's easy to make it go twice as far.

    Instead of 1 tablet daily, take one every 2nd day.
    4th May 2020
    Thanks Alan - halving the prescribed dose is always an option of course, but not one that I'd take unless absolutely necessary because I have 3 different medications for hypertension and each relies on the others for overall effect - it's the result of 20 years of 'mixing and matching', and one that I'd be loathe to mess around with.
    But the point I was trying to make with that post is that travellers can't expect to find the exact same medication in other countries as the ones they're used to in Australia, so some flexibility, determination and a lot of luck are v.useful!
    5th May 2020
    Hi Alan, I was doing the same at one stage, until the chemist (or doctor, can't remember which) told me that I might as well not take the medication at all. It was a while back so I also can't remember the exact reason, but it would be worthwhile at least speaking with your pharmacist.
    5th May 2020
    There are many different levels of hypertension, and perhaps Alan's is only very minor - where more exercise and changed diet can often make a big difference. But if anywhere close to mine (bp was 220/180 when the situation was discovered 20 years ago - after I'd complained of 'pins and needles' around one ear), then I think such an idea has to be placed firmly in the "life and death situations only" box. Otherwise why bother with medication (or even visiting the doctor) in the first place?
    4th May 2020
    We used to manufacture our own prescription medicines now the same companies are distributing medicines produced overseas and with the current problems with deliveries from overseas many of us are unable to get life saving medication.
    I still do not understand why our governments needed to send the production of almost everything we need to make life comfortable to overseas manufacturers thus making most of our workforce redundant.
    4th May 2020
    I don't think it was the governments who sent the production of almost everything overseas it was probably the manufacturers of the products as they saw the opportunity for bigger and bigger profits. After all they are not in business to "employ" people, they are in business to make money and so much of that money leaves our country to the various head offices of their branches here. As soon as there is a downturn in the economy the first exodus is the people in the workforce. Its the way the world works.
    4th May 2020
    I find it strange that there is a problem ofr transpotation from overseas. If you go on to, you will see on a world map, the flights around the world appearing to be the same as any other time frame prior to covid. I could not believe there were so many stll flying when there were so many travel restrictions, unless of course they arer goods transport aircraft.!!
    4th May 2020
    My wife's medication to control bad benign tremor has been in short supply since last October, before this current crisis. Managed to get supposedly the same product from another source, but it is not as good and has several side effects she did not experience before.
    4th May 2020
    Yes it certainly shows how we should be more self reliant but I cannot see anything changing once this is over, the horse has well & truly bolted as too much manufacturing has gone overseas. If you want to know why this happened Google Australia & the Lima Agreement 1975 & you will see how it all slots into place & we how we were sold out by our Governments on both sides
    4th May 2020
    Here we go again. More stories about how Australia has exported our reliance. Will we ever learn. People complain when prices are high even when they are by a dollar or two and so companies have to move overseas to try and keep the prices down,

    Now we see heaps of people paying rediculous prices for sanitisers without too much complaint. Why? because it is close to home when they are otherwise healthy.

    It is of the utmost irony that we have to import millions of facemasks and other PPE stuff. From where? China the place where this coronavirus originated. I don't care whether it escaped from a lab, came from a wet market or elsewhere. It is indisputable that it originated there. Much as a few other viruses have.

    To me, this is like a country declaring war on us and then turning around and saying you can buy weapons from us so you can fight us.

    Will this change when it is all over? Very unlikely.

    What should be done is that anything that is strategically necessary for this country to exist when occurrences like this happen should be produced in this country even if they have to be subsidised. Would that happen? Probably not because it's all about making sure billionaires and associated cronies making money.

    Look at the idiotic things that are happening. We export huge amounts of natural gas. Then we have to build terminals to import it because it is cheaper than that produced locally.

    I think we should give up and just hand ourselves over.
    ex PS
    7th May 2020
    Yes we all whine about not having a manufacturing ondustry in Australia, we then get into our Japanese car drive to our homes made of mainly imported materials filled with importef contents and use our Korean phones to make more complaints.
    If you want local products you havexto bexprepared to buy and pay for them.
    We ripbout fruit trees because we can import processed concentrate cheaper than we can pick the fresh stuff.
    7th May 2020
    Like concentrate is the same as fresh fruit? Sure, it's cheaper but the true value and quality is no comparison to the real thing.

    Again I say, cheaper shouldn't be the "bottom line" when comparing products. But we are talking about capitalism, where money is considered the only measurable factor. It really doesn't matter much whether Labor or LNP are in government - it is apparent that multinational corporations are he ones who make the decisions about how our world looks.
    4th May 2020
    unfortunately it all goes back to wages. Whilst ever countries like Australia expect and demand high rates of pay we will never be able to mass produce products at acceptable retail prices. Greed is what has forced everything off shore. $120 per hour for a plumber or electrician. $60 per hour for non qualified garden hand. $40 per hour for domestic cleaner. Have a think about it.
    4th May 2020
    High rates of pay have disappeared from the labour market for the past 2-3 years at least, and you would find it hard pressed to get a full-time job anywhere even prior to COVIC. its not the general public so much as the manufacturers wishing to make more and more profits - just like the banks too. Gee the big four are really stressed and complaining about their drop in profits. One today bleating profit down 60% but that still means a profit of 40% and that 40% is still in billions of dollars.
    4th May 2020
    I disagree. The middle And top man do not want to lose their bottom dollar so greed flourishes.
    If you think we have to high a wages how did we ever get to become the lucky country?
    The problem lies in to few workers having to support non producers who all want a bigger chop of the pie. To get that they would, have you believe workers are paid to much.
    Ask yourself why there is so much concentrated wealth to a few In Other countries and their people are on poverty income. And then ask yourself, Is that what you want for australia?
    ex PS
    7th May 2020
    If we lower wages, who can afford to buy the materials we produce?
    Think about it.
    7th May 2020
    saintagnes, I can assure you that cleaner gets the minimum wage, which is less than $20 per hour. The cleaning agency is the pimp who is reeling in the profits for little effort, not the hardworking cleaner workhorse. And of course, the agency has expenses and overheads. But please, don't whinge about people whose work is hard and laborious. These people can't do this hard work once they get older because their bodies wear out.

    I know because my husband and I used to be industrial cleaners and now we can't even clean our own house because our backs are stuffed - we have to hire a domestic cleaner who we are very grateful for.
    7th May 2020
    Worth every cent!

    And people who muck about under our houses, in our roofs and in our sewerage SHOULD be paid well, don't you think?
    4th May 2020
    Definitely the greedy country. You want high wages, then don't expect any manufacturing here anymore. People's expections are so high. Now the price is high.
    4th May 2020
    It all stems from a lack of industry here in good old Oz. If companies were owned by local people they would have control over production, not greedy millionaires overseas. Why do we have to import most items these days when they could be made here, giving people jobs and build the economy.
    4th May 2020
    What’s the best way to keep people coming into your supermarket so your bottom line grows? That’s correct.
    Withhold products so people have to go in every day to try and get ESSENTIAL items.
    So apart from basic food, What’s more essential than toilet paper and feminine hygiene products, both are required daily at any one time. Anyone going to a store to try and buy an essential item always walks out with a few non essentials.
    Woolworths has already declared their highest % bottom line, does that not tell you orchestrated with holding and selective dispersion of products has been occurring?
    That terminology ‘making hay whilst the sun shines’ was not coined from nothing.
    4th May 2020
    High wages have to be paid as the cost of living in Australia is much more than most countries simple really.
    4th May 2020
    And Floss, the cost of living is high because our weighs are so high.

    The floating currency was supposed to fix that, & it probably is slowly. The value of our dollar has almost halved against other currencies over the last few years, so the dollars we are paying ourselves are worth much less today than they were just a few years ago.

    In the 70s I was exporting stuff to Japan. Our dollar was worth 277 yen in the mid 70s. Today our dollar is worth just 68 yen. This is what happens to the value of your money when you pay your self too much.
    4th May 2020
    About time we made our own medications and other things again here in Australia ( Cars, white goods and many more) If they have to charge a bit more for medications too bad. Even other goods, Too bad. I check out where products are produced or made. Fruit and Vegetables not produced in Australia I "mostly" wont buy. If I had a choice with anything I will buy Aussie made. I know not always possible. WHY THEN???????????? We let it happen.
    4th May 2020
    I hear time and time again that we pay too high wages to manufacture anything in Australia. But we do. Take the latest panic buying, Toilet paper. We manufacture 70% of toilet paper in Australia against 30% brought in from overseas We seem to be competing very well there. We produce washing machines (Simpson) we produce electrical kitchen gadgets (Breville). There are many more. The business who are taking advantage of cheap labour want us to continue to belive this and you are helping them.

    We in the past allowed this to happen greedy conglomerates wanting to earn massive while selling a bit cheaper to us. We, in turn, were willing to accept this, governments not caring becuase they got money from the exporting of our in the ground commodities.

    It is time to turn this around and not by trying to treat our workforce as commodities to get as cheap as possible.

    Globalisation was supposed to enable so-called third world countries to reach our level of living but all it has done is to enable the conglomerates to take advantage of cheap labour.
    4th May 2020
    Totally agree your last para, Wstaton - and would add that product quality has also plummeted, not least because 'quality control' costs money!
    7th May 2020
    Although I support asylum seekers from countries Australia has contributed to their country's war, I am opposed to foreign workers (over 2 million in Australia before COVID!) who are the reason we've had such stagnant wages in Australia for so long. They have stifled wages even though they've also increased demand at the same time and so increased our economic growth.

    But what's the point of increased economic growth if the citizens of Australia are not benefitting, only multinationals who sell us cheap Chinese crap and ruin local manufacturers (like me)?
    4th May 2020
    Alan, does your doctor know about this? I am not so sure that advocating a half dose is a good idea at all. Only in really desperate circumstances would I be prepared to try this and only after consulting a doctor about a substitute if available. High blood pressure is not called " the silent" killer for nothing.
    5th May 2020
    I will only buy Australian products no matter what the price. Yes some may be higher prices but you get what you pay for. The fabrics are much better quality, the craftsmanship /workmanship is 100% better, the whole product is a higher quality and lasts much much longer, it is also made in Australia by a Australian. So all in all it is a win win situation and you have a much longer lasting, better quality item. Old saying you get what you pay for.
    5th May 2020
    How fortunate you are to be able to buy Australian whatever the price.
    I think that most of us would do that if we could, however it just doesn't work for us whose sole income is the pension. I had to pay $275 for a patch up job on a broken tooth the other day and I did not even have a jab.
    It is true that this is one of the most expensive countries in the world.
    Your comment about a white Australia is racist.
    All you need do is look at the medical profession to see how we have been enriched by nurses and doctors specia
    lists in particularfrom South East Asia alone.
    It seems that you sit comfortably cushioned in a bubble and not noticing how most people in the world live in poverty, struggling to keep a roof over their heads and to feed themselves.
    7th May 2020
    Whoa Maggie!
    Who said anything to create your reply: "Your comment about a white Australia is racist."???
    5th May 2020
    Most medications are packed in 28 days supply.
    I have heard calls on Talk Back Radio that people have been unable to get Diabetes, Blood Pressure and Epilepsy Medications All of those patients lives could be at extremely high risk
    5th May 2020
    Especially if they take Alan's recommendation (his reply to my 4th post from the top) to half the supply and make the medication last longer!!! Try telling your heart that it only needs to work 50% of the time...
    ex PS
    7th May 2020
    Blood Pressure Monitors are not too expensive, I monitor my blood pressure and gradually adjust my medication to suit the circumstances.
    If I lower my dose I buy the original strength doses and cut them in half, I have been doing this for decades, with my. doctors ascent.
    If you are taking medical advice from Shock Jocks your problem is not of the physical type. Actually if you take any notice of them at all you needcto seek help immediatley.
    7th May 2020
    ex PS: I've been using blood pressure monitors for 20 years and relaying the readings to my nephrologist to help him 'mix and match' my medication - which is currently 3 different types that interact with each other.
    That kind of support is well above the pay grade for a GP, 'Shock Jock' or self-medicator - and it's not one that I would interfere with by halving my medication as recommended by 'Alan' (see 4th post in this thread) or otherwise adjusting my own medication 'to suit the circumstances' as practised by you! But thanks for the 'advice', anyway...

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