Greek patients in panic as drugs disappear from pharmacies

Posted by in Society

A friend called me in an incredible angry mood this morning. “Thugs! Thugs! Thugs!” she roared in my ear, “they’re all thugs! The health ministry, the pharma companies, everyone!” Reason for my friends outburst was that one epilepsy drug suddenly disappeared from the Greek market. Without a warning the production of the drug was halted. Price over the pharmacy’s counter just €2,39 for 100 tablets. Apparently it was too cheap for the pharma company to keep up with its production. My friend get the drug for her mother, an Alzheimer’s patient.

Drug Epanutin was the solution that stopped those frightful and unpredictable seizures: trembling and shaking, cold water sensation running on the skin, freezing feeling, restless legs and arms. A torture accompanied by panic attacks as the old woman could not cope with it, neither physically nor emotionally or mentally. Each seizure would last about an hour.  A horrible experience for the patient and the caretaker. But now the drug is gone. Lost in the labyrinth corridors of greed for profit.

Drug is gone from the Greek market and there is not even a generic version to buy.

My friend has just 20 tablets left from the last pack she managed to find in pharmacy outside Athens. Twenty tablets to cover the needs for ten days. The doctors she contacted today confirmed the halting of production. “Just hope that somebody else will start the production again,” the doctor told her. The neurologist did not subscribe any alternative drug because “a change will be difficult for your mother, it might cause her some troubles. Let’s first wait and see.”

My friend would be willing to buy the drug from her own pocket. But there is not drug around.

Exactly one year ago, another supplementary drug for Alzheimer’s disappeared from the Greek market. Never to appear again. My friend claims her mother’s situation deteriorated immense since the drug was cut. But she cannot prove it.

At least once per week I hear of patients’ stories complaining about the shortage in medicine. Such a simple thing as the aspirin abandoned Greece almost five years ago.

Greece run out of medicine

The Greek patient is being sacrificed on the altar of conflict between the health ministry its older overspending and its current debts and the pharma companies that cannot get used to the idea of their profit being cut.

Odd enough, one can hardly read about this dramatic situation of medicine shortage in the Greek press. The issue is non-existent…

What a coincidence to read today an well-researched article published at the British Guardian, with many quotations from Greek officials, pharmacists and pharma representatives admitting the halting of production.

Guardian:

Panic in Greek pharmacies as hundreds of medicines run short – Pharmaceutical companies accused of cutting supplies because of low profits and unpaid bills

Here also my friend could read the reason for the disappearence of Epanutin:

” A spokesperson of Pfizer confirmed four medicines had been withdrawn “because alternatives were available and because of the parallel trade [reselling] situation in the country”. The products are the two leukaemia treatments, [analgetic...] and the epilepsy therapy Epanutin, which were withdrawn last month.”

Generally speaking, the shortages affect some 200-300 drugs: for arthritis, hepatitis C and hypertension, cholesterol-lowering agents, antipsychotics, antibiotics,  anaesthetics and immunomodulators used to treat bowel disease and other common diseases,   while another innovative drug for cancer and clinical depression are in very short supply.

“I would say supplies are down by 90%,” said Dimitris Karageorgiou, secretary general of the Greek Pharmaceutical Association told the Guardian. “The [pharma] companies are ensuring that they come in dribs and drabs to avoid prosecution.

It’s a disgrace. The government is panic-stricken and the multinationals only think about themselves and the issue of parallel trade because wholesalers can legally sell them to other European nations at a higher price.”

The Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Companies said, there were “probably a very few companies” that were not supplying the Greek market, and only for very specific products — “the reasons being a combination of Greece’s low medicine prices and unpaid debt by the state”, he said.

The Greek government has drawn up a list of more than 50 pharmaceutical companies it accuses of halting or planning to halt supplies because of low prices in the country. The government list includes some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. The  National Organisation for Medicines (EOF) has investigated 13 big multinational pharmaceutical companies that have reduced supplies and has handed the names of eight to the ministry of health so they can be fined.

Sadly enough, not even the Guardian contacted any of those really suffering from the drugs shortage: the patient!

PS What’s the name of this EU Health Commissioner, whose first advice when he assumed posted last month to Greeks was they should stop smoking because it was counterproductive?