I have heard of problems with the supply of Azilect (generic name: rasagiline, although there are, as yet, no generic licences for this drug*) to pharmacies before, but have not experienced any problems myself – until today.
Fortunately, I have a week or two’s supply in hand (but only three day’s worth of ropinirole), so I doubt that it will affect me this time other than the requirement to return to the pharmacy next week.
When the pharmacist told me that he had been unable to source the Azilect, he said that “they” would not let him have any. That sounded odd, to me, and – as the shop was quiet – I asked him about it. He told me that the supplier (he may have said manufacturers; I’m not sure – however, I do know that there is only one supplier for Azilect in the UK) were restricting supply. The way he said it implied that this restriction was artificial – a deliberate obstruction intended, one imagines, to increase the potential value of the drug (possibly not in monetary terms, although obviously there would be some fiscal gain somewhere along the line).
The pharmacist told me that he liked to keep three packs in (I’m not his only customer for Azilect, but it is a village pharmacy, and so the clientele is relatively small), but had been denied the stock. He said that he had to make repeated calls to the suppliers requesting the drug.
I don’t pretend to understand the machinations of the corporate mind, so I have no real idea how deliberately restricting the supply of a drug that is intended to be taken on a daily basis (if this is what is happening) might benefit the supplier or the manufacturer. As far as I can tell, it will mostly serve to annoy people (the pharmacist didn’t sound best pleased, and anybody who has to go without their daily dose because of the restrictions would be mightily miffed).
Of course, there could be a benign explanation; perhaps there really are supply issues; an ingredient is scarce, or there has been an interruption in the manufacturing process. Or perhaps, as was suggested here, the manufacturers were being paid more in other countries (the market in the UK is defined by our NHS; I’m not sure whether that worthy body can dictate prices to drugs companies, but I somehow doubt that they would have an awful lot of influence). I don’t know.
But I do know that I’m going to try and get my repeat prescription for this drug filled at least a week before I need it.
* Apparently, Teva have extended the patent for Azilect and there will be no generic until 2017.
EDIT: I have been directed to this page, which acknowledges that there are shortages of branded medicines and describes the cause as follows:
At the heart of the problem are changes in the European import and export market. A weak Pound and strong Euro have reduced the benefits from using parallel imported products; increasing the demand for UK medicines both from UK pharmacies and internationally.
This is a complex issue – there is no easy solution. It is not possible to prevent the export of UK medicines as this would be contrary to European trade laws.
A link from the same page takes you to the Branded Shortages List; Azilect is close to the top (well, it is alphabetical).