France is considering ways to address the current medication shortage, which has severely worsened in the past decade, with MPs set to debate the issue next week and a consumer association calling for more action.
This year, more than 2,400 vital medications in France have been in short supply or not available at all - up from just 44 in 2008.
Health agency l’Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament has warned that many of the drugs are not palliative, but are for serious, life-threatening conditions. These drugs are known in France as “médicaments d’intérêt thérapeutique majeur”, which are usually reimbursed at 65%.
The medications in short supply include antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, Parkinson’s disease treatments, anti-epileptics, antihypertensive drugs, beta-blockers, and heart arrhythmia drugs.
Of the drugs in short supply, 18% have no viable alternative that can be used - and even some of the alternatives that do exist can cause severe side-effects.
Many are made in China or India, meaning that France - and Europe in general - relies on these laboratories abroad to replenish stocks, and has little control over supply or pricing.
Some of the medication has been on the market for a long time meaning that its patents may have ended, with generic versions now being made by different labs and the lower profit reducing their availability further.
The issue has been worsening since 2008, from 44 medications reported at low stock levels then; up to 900 in 2010; 1,200 in 2019; and 2,400 in 2020.
Only 22% of reimbursable drugs in France are produced locally, including 17% used in hospitals and 2% used for cancer treatment.
In France, medications that are out of stock are unavailable for an average of eight months.
UFC-Que Choisir: ‘Inaction a bitter pill to swallow’
Consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has been a vocal campaigner for the issue, and has criticised the fines given to two laboratories in 2019 for their part in the shortages as “derisory” and “ridiculous” - one of €830 and another of €5,807.
Alain Bazot, president of the consumer association, has now condemned the “inaction to fight these medication shortages” as a “bitter pill to swallow”.
On the UFC-Que Choisir website, he has this week called for the government to adopt an amendment to the social security budget, which would enable stocks of at least four months to be built up as a backup in case of shortages.
This amendment was adopted by the Senate last week, but questioned by the Assemblée nationale this week. MPs are now set to examine the law again next week.
Mr Bazot said: “Given the growing gravity of this phenomenon, I call on MPs...to reintroduce the sensible measure voted in by the Senate. In the same way, I call on the government to publish without delay its decree on how to ensure alternatives in case of stock shortages - a measure that was voted for last year but is taking a long time to enter into force.”
Mr Bazot also wrote that medication needs to be “organised intelligently” to avoid it “sitting on the shelf” for too long, and risking going out of date.