Supply issues for medicines in France: Thousands of drugs affected

More than 3,500 medicines are experiencing shortages, up from just 43 in 2008, new figures show, including drugs that treat serious conditions

A photo of empty blister packs with just one tablet left, to show medicine shortages
Several drugs for serious conditions are in increasingly short supply in France
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Thousands of commonly-used and life-saving medicines are experiencing shortages in France, putting supplies, pharmacies, GPs and patients under growing tension.

Paracetamol and amoxicillin have been worsening for several months, especially in January.

Read more: Paracetamol shortage: France limits sales to two boxes per patient

But the wider situation appears to have worsened significantly in the past 15 years. In 2008, 43 medicines dubbed essential were experiencing a shortage. This compares to 871 in 2018 and more than 3,500 in 2022.

Some categories of drugs have been particularly affected. Those most likely to see shortages include::

  • Anti-infection medicines
  • Nervous system drugs (anti-epilepsy, anti-Parkinson's)
  • Cardiovascular drugs (anti-thrombosis)

A ‘rupture de stock’ means those with delays of more than 72 hours for patients who request them.

Pharmacist Isabelle Maachi-Guillot, head of the health products division at the Bordeaux University Hospital, told Le Monde that there is an almost never-ending list of products that she is having trouble getting hold of.

She said: "Actilyse and Métalyse are used to treat strokes and heart attacks. It's very worrying, because the stock shortages have been going on for months."

The same applies to certain medical devices used in surgery, she added. "We spend a lot of time managing these shortages but also the discontent of those affected."

These include doctors who are unhappy about changing their treatment strategy, and patients who have difficulty finding the medicine they have been prescribed once they have left hospital.

Pierrick Bedouch, head of the pharmacy division at Grenoble University Hospital said the same.

He said: “Managing stock shortages has become routine. For the moment, it isn’t preventing us from treating patients but it takes a lot of time and energy to find solutions.

He said that of the 2,500 drugs used in the hospital, more than 300 are on backorder. This means that staff have to try other options. Alternatives might include injectable forms of a drug that would otherwise be taken orally, making its administration more difficult.

Mr Bedouch added: “This is a public health phenomenon that is getting worse and worse, and for which we don’t see any immediate solutions.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war are considered to be among the primary causes of the shortages, especially as many of the raw materials used to make them experienced supply issues in China and India.

The situation in France has even prompted some people to travel to neighbouring Italy to find medicines that are in low supply.

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