Antibiotics are in short supply across Australia as GPs demand a solution to the ‘growing problem’

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Medicine shortages are a “growing problem” for Australia and antibiotics are among commonly prescribed medicines currently in short supply, according to the peak body of GPs.

Medicines regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said on Monday that the three most commonly prescribed antibiotics – amoxicillin, cephalexin and metronidazole – are in short supply. They are used to treat a range of bacterial infections, including pneumonia and other lung infections, skin infections, and urinary tract infections.

To help patients get through the shortage, the TGA allowed pharmacists to dispense alternative antibiotics without the prescribing doctor’s approval.

“It is important to note that many of these drugs have alternatives available,” the TGA said. “Your pharmacist may be able to give you a different brand, or your doctor may prescribe a different dosage or medication with a similar spectrum of activity.”

Related: Parents report struggling to find antibiotics as UK Strep A cases rise

A TGA spokesperson said “most antibiotic shortages are caused by manufacturing issues or an unexpected increase in demand.”

“Supply is expected to return to normal levels within the next three months, with some drugs returning much sooner,” he said.

Dr Nicole Higgins, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said shortages of certain medicines were “becoming a growing problem in Australia”.

“It’s really been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected international supply chains,” she said. “And the shortage of antibiotics appears to be a global supply and manufacturing issue, but it’s unclear exactly why demand has increased.”

She said GPs often have a good relationship with pharmacies in their area and will work with them to help get the medicines their patients need if they are having trouble finding them.

“We can also sometimes find a substitute for a certain drug, but drugs are not easily substituted for each other,” Higgins said. “We need to tackle this with a long-term solution because when people go without the medicines they need, it can harm their health and well-being.”

Infectious disease physician Dr Peter Collignon agreed that long-term solutions were needed. Most drugs are now made in India and China, he said, and the lack of diversity in that supply means that when production problems arise, few manufacturers can step in to fill the void.

Quickly sourcing drugs from other countries with similar quality control standards is also difficult due to regulatory requirements, he added, but supply is tight around the world. The UK and US are also seeing increased demand for antibiotics, driven in the former by an increase in Strep A infections.

Pharmaceutical companies have a monopoly on supplying certain drugs to Australia, and Collignon said if there is a shortage there is a lengthy approval process to obtain similar products from other suppliers.

“This whole situation is unsatisfactory,” he said. “Of course you need to have a process to ensure that you are providing quality regulated medicines. But in a shortage situation, we need to facilitate the flow of medicines from other well-developed and regulated markets like the United States. , England and Germany.

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