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Medicine shortages - don't get caught short

15 January 2019

If Mel eats peanuts by mistake, she can have a severe allergic reaction. Her throat begins to swell, and before long it's hard to breathe. If she doesn't get an injection of adrenaline, she could die.

Like other people with severe food allergies, Mel carries an EpiPen, an adrenaline auto-injector, at all times. But early last year, supplies of this medicine became constrained, and some people, including Mel, had difficulty replacing their out-of-date EpiPens.

In the end, Mel's pharmacist sourced an EpiPen for her, and supplies in Australia are now sufficient to meet demand.

Mel is one of many people around the world who depend on the supply of a particular medicine. For Mel, it is an adrenaline auto-injector. For a cancer patient, it may be a chemotherapy medicine. For you, it could be something else.

As of 1 January this year, it is mandatory for medicine companies to report shortages of prescription medicines and some important over-the-counter medicines to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). We will then work alongside medicine companies, state and territory governments, and other relevant organisations to notify the Australian community.

Mandatory reporting will help ensure that you, your doctor and your pharmacist find out about medicine shortages as soon as possible. Early awareness of a shortage enables you to seek timely advice from your doctor or pharmacist about how best to manage it.

Medicine shortages are a global challenge

Medicine shortages occur around the world. In Australia, we import many of our medicines, which means we are affected by disruptions in the global supply chain. A medicine could be discontinued. A manufacturing facility could be moved or closed. The supply of raw materials could be interrupted. These and other events can lead to a shortage.

New mandatory reporting requirements for medicine shortages will not prevent shortages, but they will help health professionals and consumers manage them when they occur.

The TGA publishes medicine shortage notifications

The TGA publishes information about shortages of prescription medicines and some important over-the-counter medicines on our website.

We publish information about all critical shortages that are likely to have a serious or life-threatening impact or where there are no substitute medicines in Australia that can meet demand. We also publish information about lower impact shortages where appropriate.

You can search the medicine shortages database at any time. We will also share medicine shortage notifications through our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Seek advice from a health professional about managing a medicine shortage

Speak with a doctor or pharmacist if there is a shortage of a medicine that you need. Even if there is a shortage, the medicine may still be available at your pharmacy. In some situations, your doctor or pharmacist may be able to recommend a substitute medicine or treatment that will meet your needs.

Mandatory reporting means better outcomes for you

If there is a medicine shortage in Australia today, a patient is less likely to get an unwelcome surprise at the pharmacy counter. With the earliest possible notice, a patient's pharmacist will also have more opportunity to manage their stock. Medicine supply during a shortage cannot be guaranteed, but mandatory reporting helps put you, your doctor, and your pharmacist on the front foot.

Further information