Suppliers blamed for drug shortage

Pharmacies throughout Portugal are blaming the lack of pharmaceutical drugs available to them on unfair distribution and pricing of drugs by suppliers.

“In Portugal, there would never be a lack of drugs if the pharmaceutical supply satisfied the requests that are made by wholesalers and pharmacies,” said the National Association of Pharmacies (ANF), in a statement sent to the media last Friday.

Last Tuesday the industrial pharmaceutical association, Apifarma, released a study that concluded that parallel exports of drugs are a major cause of shortages at local stockists (see article ‘Chemists battle against bankruptcy’ in the September 28 issue of the Algarve Resident).

The analysis found that exports of pharmaceutical drugs to other destinations were sold, on average, at prices more than twice the value of those distributed in Portugal. European countries receiving drugs from Portugal include Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries.

It is believed that pharmacies throughout Portugal are not receiving the supplies they need because stockists are giving priority to exporting drugs in order to achieve more revenue.

“There is free movement of goods but the pharmaceutical industry cannot have free movement of medicines, as prices differ substantially from country to country for the same medicine,” said a statement from the ANF.

Speaking from a presentation of the Apifarma study, João Almeida Lopes, president of the Portuguese Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry, warned that there are still major risks of “further shortages of drugs in Portugal as a result of uncontrolled low prices”.

“The findings concern us greatly. Portuguese patients are already having difficulty getting their medicines in time,” he said.

Lopes believes that the only solution to the grave situation lies in the government’s hands.

He said: “Unless the pricing structure changes, hundreds of local pharmacies will go out of business, further reducing the availability of drugs to consumers.”

When asked about a possible increase in drug prices, he claimed that now was not the right time to speak about that possibility, “taking into account the prevailing situation in the country”.

As it stands, many drug companies and distributors are owed millions of euros by Portuguese pharmacies, which are unable to pay off their debts, as they say enforced reduction of drug prices makes it impossible for them to get out of financial difficulties.

At a standstill and not paying their overdue bills, pharmacies are not receiving the stock they need and drug suppliers are turning to exporting supplies, where payment is easily obtained and received at a higher rate than that in Portugal.

It is predicted by the ANF that around 600 pharmacies could close next year as they are unable to support business operating costs and are unable to meet their financial obligations to suppliers.

||  Pharmaceutical workers protest

Hundreds of pharmaceutical workers gathered in Lisbon last Saturday to protest against measures implemented by the government that have led to drug shortages in many pharmacies across the country and are leading to bankruptcy in the sector.

A petition, launched in late September, was delivered to the Ministry of Health at the end of the protest, containing more than 200,000 signatures, calling for a change in drug policies in Portugal to avoid the closure of around 600 pharmacies next year.

Within the petition, signatories are asking the government to take appropriate measures that will allow pharmacies to have fair access to quality medicines and are provided with the necessary financial support to continue operating normally.