When you rely on a particular medicine, the last thing you want is for it to go out of stock. Not just temporarily out of stock, but unavailable for weeks, or even months, on end. That's what some people in the UK are currently facing, according to a new BBC report. It's easy to link common medicines being out of stock to Brexit, but apparently our imminent exit from the EU is not the cause of the drug shortage.
Every month, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) publishes a list of drugs that are in such short supply that the Department of Health have agreed to pay a premium price for them. After analysing this list, the BBC found that there has been "a big rise" in the number of drugs deemed to be in short supply.
There are 80 medicines currently on the list. This is almost double the amount that appeared on the October list (which totalled 45). However, the BBC does note that there was a "spike" in November. The drugs on the list are used to treat a number of conditions including depression, high blood pressure (with a certain high blood pressure medication, Propranolol, also doubling up as a treatment for migraines), general pain and pain from menstrual cramps, and even nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Almost a third of the drugs on the December short supply list are included in the 500 most commonly prescribed medications, according to the BBC. Despite this figure, the director general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association, Warwick Smith, didn't use the word "shortage", calling it a "tightening of supply. It's normal for levels of availability to increase and decrease, which impacts prices."
So what exactly is causing the problem? Many have suggested Brexit. But according to experts, they are wrong. In a statement given to the BBC, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We have not seen any evidence of current medicine supply issues linked to EU exit preparations."
The BBC reports that everything from higher costs due to global demand and exchange rate changes could be behind the problem. The PSNC said that the NHS could be to blame. By working out a good low cost deal with manufacturers, drugs companies may now be looking elsewhere to sell their products. It is possible that people personally stockpiling medication perhaps because of concerns around Brexit-related shortages could be worsening the problem. The government had already warned the public not to do this, only advising manufacturers to ensure they had at least six weeks worth' of drugs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
One woman told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme how she had been affected by the shortage. Melanie, who has fibromyalgia and hypermobility, said that her pharmacist had run out of her usual prescription medication, instead giving her ibuprofen which turned out to be ineffective. "I was in floods of tears with the pain — it was awful," she told the programme. "It makes a massive difference in my condition."
Similarly, at the end of October, Bustle reported on the number of people complaining about the unavailability of migraine prevention tablet Migraleve. Not only did these complaints reveal how a shortage in just one drug could affect lives but they also suggest that a supply problem in common medication may have been ongoing for a few months.
Brexit may not be directly to blame for this current shortage, but there's no guarantee that it will help the situation either. As with everything, only time will tell.