Shortages of 4,000 medicines in France; what risk for this winter?

Drugs affected include antibiotics and some painkillers

A box of amoxicillin with French labelling
Amoxicillin is on the list of medicines currently experiencing a shortage
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France is still experiencing shortages in almost 4,000 medicines which could present a problem this winter, medical unions have warned.

These include antibiotics which are often used to treat ‘winter’ illnesses.

“We have some short-term shortages, which will last for a month or two, some more,” said Pierre-Olivier Variot, president of the Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine (USPO) to FranceInfo. “But we also have shortages that are longer-term, and with those, it could get tough.”

“Some medicines seem to evaporate, disappear, between the factory and the pharmacies, and we don’t know why - nobody seems to have the answer,” said Mr Variot. We keep asking the ANSM [national medicines agency] to make the supply chain more transparent.”

He continued: “With amoxicillin, for example, there is a major paradox. The ANSM tells us that manufacturers have between three and five months' stock. Wholesalers, who are the intermediaries between manufacturers and pharmacies, have no stock, and pharmacies have very, very variable stocks.

“So there is a big disparity in supply. It is not usual for manufacturers to hold stock. They need to be released as quickly as possible so that they can be delivered to pharmacies.”

Medicines experiencing a shortage include:

  • Cortisone-based medicines
  • Amoxicillin
  • Certain anti-cancer drugs
  • Anti-high blood pressure drugs
  • Some painkillers
  • Some anti-diabetics

Doctors may need to prescribe alternatives to people with long-term conditions., and hospital requirements may receive priority over public pharmacies. When there was a shortage of paracetamol and amoxicillin in winter 2022-2023 - which caused issues during the then-‘triple epidemic’ of Covid, bronchiolitis, and flu - pharmacies introduced limits on purchases, such as only two boxes per person.

Some especially short-supply prescription medicines may even be dispensed pill-by-pill, rather than in entire boxes.

Read more: Some antibiotics may be sold pill by pill due to shortages in France

Why are there shortages?

The shortages appear to be due to a disparity between production levels and France’s needs, and problems with supply from factories located outside of France - including in China and India.

Up to 80% of medicines used in France are now manufactured outside the EU, compared to just 20% around 30 years ago.

After the production interruptions caused by Covid, the war in Ukraine has also caused supply chain issues.

President Emmanuel Macron has previously pledged to bring the manufacturing of 50 essential medicines to France to avoid supply issues in future, but this has not yet happened.

Read more: How does France plan to tackle shortages to ‘more than 3,000 drugs’?

“Bringing production here and not being dependent on other nations for the production of essential medicines is fundamental,” said Mr Variot.

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