Brussels to present plans to avoid medicine shortages as Europe suffers from lack of supply

Brussels will present plans later this year to avoid medicine shortages and improve stocks' transparency, according to the EU's health commissioner.

The proposals, which are expected in March, will update the bloc's current general pharmaceuticals legislation, and aim to address the lack of supply that the EU is now experiencing. This includes antibiotics, like amoxicillin, medicines to relieve colds, the flu, and other respiratory infections, and pediatric treatments.

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, told MEPs in Strasbourg that antibiotic shortages are increasingly becoming a problem for member states and that the revised law will provide a remedy to this.

"The main root causes that have been identified are the sharp increase in demand because of more respiratory infections along with insufficient production capacity. As these products are authorised at national level the member states’ competent authorities are already putting mitigation measures in place," Kyriakides said.

Some of these measures include selling the generic equivalent or a similar medicine, or in some countries maybe even changing some formulations, like converting tablets to syrup, so children are able to take them.

The plans will include stronger obligations for meeting supply demands and earlier notification of shortages and withdrawals.

The situation is considered critical in most European countries, but according to Steffen Thirstrup, Chief Medical Officer at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), people should not start stockpiling medicines.

"The availability of pediatric formulations is generally lower than the ordinary tablets that you can swallow. With infections targeting children the pressure on the availability for the pediatric formulations is higher than for adult formulas," Thirstrup told Euronews.

According to the Medicine Shortages Index, the number of out-of-stock medicines in Ireland reached 224 this week, mainly due to Irish drug manufacturers selling their products abroad for more money.

But what can Europe do if the problem is worldwide?

Ilaria Passarani, Secretary-General of the Pharmaceutical Group of the EU, called for diversification.

"We need diversification. Of course, it would be useful to bring back to Europe the production of some critical materials, active pharmaceutical ingredients, for example, but we cannot bring back to Europe all the production of all materials that we use for medicines. That is not realistic," she told Euronews.

"And it also entails challenges, including, for example, the possible increase in price linked to the respect of the enviromental laws or labour laws that are not necessarily respected in other countries."