Which products are affected and why?

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Reports of drug shortages in France have increased sixfold since 2016, with more than a hundred different drugs affected.

Some of the most commonly reported shortages are in drugs used to treat high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and neurological problems.

Last year, one in four people reported difficulty getting the medicine they needed because of its scarcity.

Earlier this month, it was announced that pharmaceutical companies should now stockpile for at least two months of “products of major therapeutic interest” to avoid breakages.

We are looking at the drugs with the most frequently reported supply and the potential reasons for this shortage.

Which drugs are affected?

Drug shortages have increased year on year since 2016, when 405 reports cited a lab warning saying they may be out of stock. By 2020, this figure had risen to 2,446, according to the National Medicines Agency, the National Medicines and Health Products Safety Agency (ANSM).

The spread of Covid-19 has also caused a shortage of muscle relaxant curare, which was widely used to treat intensive care patients.

ANSM reports also show that the antihypertensive drugs irbesartan and ramipril, as well as other drugs affecting the cardiovascular and nervous systems are often subject to shortages.

Risperidone, which is used to treat schizophrenia, and lansoprazole, which relieves inflammation and stomach ulcers, are also among the most frequently reported shortages.

When certain drugs are scarce, healthcare workers are left with no alternative treatment.

A November 2020 * study carried out by the consumer association UFC-Que Choisir indicated that in 18% of cases, “the laboratories do not offer any substitute, leaving patients in a terrible impasse”.

For other drugs, manufacturers could suggest a “mediocre” alternative that could lead to dangerous side effects, the group said.

* The UFC-Que Choisir study concerned the 140 drugs reported out of stock or out of stock by the ANSM in July 2020.

What caused the problem?

This increase in shortage declarations is partly due to the introduction of a 2016 law that lowered the threshold from which laboratories were required to report a lack of supply to the ANSM.

The 2020 social security financing law has also strengthened the penalties that laboratories could be faced with if they do not declare a possible out of stock as soon as possible.

The figures also show that the drug supply has been heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with 700 shortages reported in March and April 2020 alone, when countries closed their borders to combat the spread of the virus.

At that time, 80 to 85% of French drugs and active ingredients were produced in China, according to the Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire, who described this situation as “irresponsible and unreasonable”.

Even before the start of the pandemic, this addiction had posed problems. In 2017, to reduce its emissions, China limited the electricity supply to some industrial zones, which housed several pharmaceutical factories. This has led to a worldwide shortage of the antibiotic amoxicillin and clavulanic acid.

Several experts in the pharmaceutical field have also suggested that the shortage of many cheap and commonly used drugs may be due to the economic strategy of the manufacturing company.

Philippe Lamoureux, managing director of the association of pharmaceutical companies LEEM told Le Monde that “when drugs enter the public domain and the market is full of competitors, their prices drop very quickly.

“Sometimes the price drops below the cost of production, so the drug is no longer produced.”

An ANSM study of the 3,530 shortage observations made between 2012 and 2018 showed that 63.4% of the drugs in question had first been made available more than 10 years ago, that is to say -to say that they were no longer profitable for the manufacturers.

If production stops and supply decreases, demand – and therefore profitability – will increase.

Decisions to stop the manufacture of certain drugs have direct effects on patients. On September 7, Franceinfo reported the story of ‘Marc’, who was forced to have his bladder removed following repeated shortages of the drugs he needed for his cancer treatment.

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