Millions of people around the world who use certain common medicines may find it harder to get their usual prescriptions. It comes after pharmacies across the UK, USA and Europe all reported a deficiency many different drugsincluding those often prescribed for menopause, dementia, depression and pain.

There is many reasons why disruptions occur in the pharmaceutical supply chain, including production issues, supplier and price changes, increased demand, stockpiling and panic buying. For example, a reduction in supply and an increase in demand may partially explain the cause hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products have faced recent shortages.

There is no single root cause of the current global drug shortage, and each country will face different supply challenges. But factors such as the pandemic, Brexit, reduced supply through overused supply routes (eg to India) and the conflict in Ukraine all have a wide-ranging impact on the availability of medicines.

But disruptions in the supply chain can be more than a minor annoyance for patients trying to get their prescriptions. This could potentially lead to delays in patient treatment and even with a fatal outcome.

People who can’t get a regular prescription can try to switch medications, access products online, or even buy them over the counter. Not only this can be more expensiveit can too put patients at risk side effects.

What is being done

If supplies are limited, pharmacy staff will try to purchase supplies from suppliers or other pharmacies. If an alternative product already exists, pharmacy staff will contact GPs to ask for prescriptions to be changed to dispense it to patients. But patients should be aware when they switch to treatment avoid confusion and any negative side effects.

When serious product shortages are reported, serious shortage reports are drawn up can be put into action. This helps pharmacies deal with drug shortages without the need for patients to return to their prescribers. For example, when these protocols are put in place, pharmacists can supply alternative products (if the patient agrees) or adjust the number of prescriptions, such as providing patients with only one month’s supply.

Your pharmacist can help you understand any changes in your medication. – Yuriy A/ Shutterstock

Manufacturers too required by law report supply disruptions to the Department of Health and Welfare. This information is provided in Drug delivery tool which advises health care providers on issues of provision, actions to be taken, alternatives to use and expected decision dates. Local pharmacy staff and GPs will also report any product shortages to government agencies and patients.

Information about the patient

While some may argue that patients should not be involved in obtaining their medication, it can be very helpful when there is a shortage. Here are some things you can do if your medication is getting harder to find.

If you take a certain medication on a recurring basis, you can request your prescriptions sooner before your current supply runs out. There are also online resources you can check to see if your medicine is working suffered from shortagesand what you can do about it.

If your local pharmacy doesn’t have your medication, you can try other pharmacies to find the medication before the prescription has to be replaced with an alternative product.

You can also work with your GP or pharmacist to better understand what is going on and what you can do. If you can’t make an appointment with your GP or speak to your local pharmacist in person, there are programs that enable direct messaging. This can help clear up any confusion and allow you to discuss any issues that may arise.

It should be noted that product changes in the public pharmacy are allowed only in the presence of serious shortage protocols. At the moment, serious deficit protocols are being drawn up only for 16 UK Medicines – mainly those used as hormone replacement therapy. These protocols are applied only if a serious shortage of a particular drug is found.

It is unlikely that the shortage of drugs will be eliminated in the near future. It is therefore vital that you speak to your pharmacist or GP about any concerns you may have, how shortages are affecting the supply of medicines and what measures you may need to take. It is important not to use an alternative product without talking to your pharmacist, nurse or doctor to avoid side effects.

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