We’re a small fish in a big pharmaceutical pond – Should Australia be worried?

According to NPS Medicine Wise Australia accounts for only 2 per cent of the pharmaceutical sector’s global market and we import more than 90% of our medicines from overseas. In light of the increasing incidence of global drug shortages, affecting even giant markets like the U.S., should we be worried?

In September of this year the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) introduced new laws that will see drug manufacturers receive fines for failing to report an impending drug shortage. This was in response to several medicines shortages in recent years that took Australia’s medical sector by surprise and forced many practitioners to scramble for sometimes second-rate alternatives that had the potential to compromise patients’ health.

Chief of these shortages was that of the EpiPen, an adrenaline-filled device used in an emergency to treat potentially life-threatening anaphylaxis. Earlier this year supplies to Australia of this crucial medication device dried up, presenting a critical health threat to thousands of Australians with severe allergies.

On occasion something as simple as sterile water used for injections has also been in short supply, leaving doctors with very few effective alternatives.

While the TGA’s new legislation will ensure we receive no more nasty surprises and can plan for supply disruptions through good management practices, it doesn’t address the fundamental reality that drug shortages will continue to happen, and here in Australia where we have to pharmaceutical industry of note, there’s not much we can do about it.

In 2017 The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia conducted a survey of Australian hospitals which found the five most common medicines regularly in short supply were antibiotics, anaesthetics, cardiology drugs, endocrinology drugs and chemotherapy.

The reasons for these shortages are many, and largely economic – as reported by Fortune Magazine there’s less profit in commonly prescribed medications than medications for rarer diseases and therefore less incentive for drug manufacturers to keep up with demand.

As suggested by Steve Morris, CEO of NPS MedicineWise in Australian Prescriber, “Although international efforts should continue to focus on increasing the resilience of the global pharmaceutical supply chain, we have to consider how the potential consequences for Australian patients can be minimised.”

Fortunately in Australia we have a government regulated and highly responsible compounding pharmacy sector, that can, and often does, make up medications for desperate pharmacies and prescribing doctors who can get certain medications no other way.

With little fanfare, these compounding pharmacies step in and make up medications when commercial manufacturers can’t guarantee supply.

For more information on the important contribution compounding pharmacies make to the health care sector during drug shortages contact Matthew Bellgrove at National Custom Compounding on 1300 731 755 or [email protected]