TGA launches inquiry into medicine shortages in Australia

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has launched an official inquiry into ongoing medicine shortages in Australia, how they affect the community and what can be done to alleviate them.

Pharmacists around the nation have been facing a shortage of almost 450 common medicines for around 12 months now. It’s a problem that has many GPs pulling their hair out in frustration.

To manage community demand, doctors have been forced to ration certain medications and supply alternatives where possible in others. Medicines in short supply include pain medication ARX morphine, antidepressant fluoxetine and cancer drug amifostine ethyol.

In some cases, such as in the case of diabetes and weight loss drug Ozempic, the TGA is advising GPs not to prescribe the drug to any new patients.

It’s been hard to pinpoint an exact cause of the shortages, especially since so many drugs are affected. Initially, supply chains were impacted by global COVID restrictions and their associated slowdowns, but recently the TGA has highlighted ‘manufacturing issues’ as an ongoing concern.

Now, in order to take some concrete steps to tackle the crisis, the TGA has launched a comprehensive investigation into the effects the shortages are having and how best to communicate them to healthcare professionals.

The TGA is calling on all medical professionals to take part in a survey on the shortages, saying the research will give healthcare workers a chance to offer their unique insights into the situation.

“We want to better understand the nature, extent and urgency of problems impacting the supply of medicines, including shortages and discontinuations of medicines in Australia,” the TGA says in its overview of the research.

“We also want to hear about possible opportunities to address these challenges, in continued collaboration with the broad range of stakeholders responsible for medicine supply and utilisation. Your feedback will give us insights into different perspectives on the medicine supply chain, and inform recommendations on medicine shortages priorities for future improvement.”

Professor Mark Morgan, chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ (RACGP) Expert Committee, told newsGP changes need to be made urgently as the shortages are starting to have a real world impact on people’s health.

“There are indirect harms when prescribers must choose a less effective or less safe alternative medicine,” he said.

“It would be beneficial if Australia had the capacity to manufacture, quality assure and approve the use of alternatives. Australia should manage national stockpiles of medicines to ride out temporary manufacturing or transport problems, but it is unclear how effectively this is governed at the moment.”

When a shortage occurs, the TGA has a range of management actions it can employ, including distributing stock acquired directly by the government, issuing guidance on prioritising prescribing, and approving the supply of alternative products.

But there are certain things the TGA can’t do. It can’t forcibly redistribute stock held by pharmacies, it can’t manage how pharmacists distribute the medicine (only make recommendations) or force pharmaceutical companies to manufacture their products in Australia.

Prof. Morgan says required medicine stocks in Australia should be easy to predict thanks to our smaller population size and extensive medical history data.

“I do question how the recurring problem of shortages can be fixed and whether there is a clear national strategy,” he said.
“Our supermarkets do a fairly good job of sourcing thousands of product lines with substitutions when necessary and nobody dies from lack of an avocado!”

Have you had any problems getting your regular medicines? Is there anything the government could be doing to fix the issue? Let us know in the comments section below.

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