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HEALTH

Medicine shortages in France – which drugs are affected?

French health authorities have flagged a medicine shortage in recent weeks, and pharmacies have been asked to limit over-the-counter sales for some drugs.

Medicine shortages in France - which drugs are affected?
The paracetamol medicine Doliprane in a pharmacy in Paris, on September 8, 2020. (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP)

The shortage primarily concerns two drugs: the over-the-counter drug paracetamol (Tylenol) – usually sold under the brand name Doliprane in France – and the prescribed antibiotic amoxicillin.

Doliprane is widely taken for a variety of mild health problems such as headaches, joint pain, flu and period pain, while amoxicillin is the most-prescribed antibiotic for children suffering from illnesses including ear infections and sore throats.

Over a hundred other medications are also in short supply, such as two drugs used to treat Type 2 Diabetes – Ozempic (semaglutide) and Trulicity (dulaglutide). You can find the full list of medicines with strains in supply HERE

In an interview with RTL on Sunday, the Minister of Health, François Braun addressed the “reality” of the strain in medication supplies, saying that he expects stocks of paracetamol to return to normal in “coming weeks.”

However, the picture is a bit more complicated for the antibiotic amoxicillin, and an exact timeline is “difficult to predict” according to the minister. He hopes that the shortage of this drug will be resolved within at least the “coming weeks and months.”

How has the shortage affected patients?

French pharmacies have needed to take specific actions to remedy the shortage of over-the-counter paracetamol, which has been in short supply since July. Specifically, pharmacists have limited the maximum number of boxes sold to two per person (without prescription).

On the other hand, doctors have been asked not to prescribe paracetamol unless there is “an identified need.”

As for amoxicillin, it is the primary antibiotic prescribed to children facing bacterial infections, such as ear infections, in France. However, due to the shortage, health authorities have asked doctors to only prescribe this medicine when absolutely necessary. 

On Friday, the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) alerted the public that a strong “strains in supply” could last until March for amoxicillin.

What is the government doing in response?

The French government, has called on medicine manufacturing industry to increase their production lines and to work at maximum capacity – seven days a week and 24 hours a day – in order to return the paracetamol supply levels to normal.

The French government has also prohibited the resale of amoxicillin to other countries.

Are other medicines affected?

So far, paracetamol and amoxicillin have been the focus of alerts from health authorities, and the shortage is due to specific issues with those drugs (see below).

As for other medications, the ANSM keeps an ongoing list of any drugs in short supply or at risk of being in short supply. By searching the drug’s generic name (i.e. the active ingredient) on their list, you can see all other medications concerned. 

If you have other medications prescribed that do not appear on the list above, there should be no problem in getting the drugs that you need.

What is the reason for the shortage?

Health authorities believe the shortage is mostly due to an increase in demand – due to a higher spread of seasonal illnesses such as colds, flu and bronchitis after two years of Covid-related lockdowns and protective measures.

“This year, from January to October, the demand for amoxicillin is around 40 million boxes, whereas in 2020 and 2021 it was much lower, around 30 million boxes,” a representative from the ministry of health explained to Les Echos.

Additionally, part of the problem is related to production and manufacturing. Due to a drop in demand during the pandemic, manufacturers reduced their production. Now they are being asked to return to pre-pandemic production levels. 

According to the minister of health, this also signals the need for medicines to be produced in France, as the majority of raw materials currently come from Asia. Braun mentioned that ‘medicine sovereignty’ would be an important aspect of the government’s 2030 investment plan.

READ MORE: Why do the French love medication so much?

Finally – for amoxicillin specifically, part of the cause of the shortage is due to over-consumption in France. The health ministry noted that “at least half of all antibiotic prescriptions in France are medically unjustified,” as the drug only fights bacteria, not viruses like bronchitis or flu.

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POLITICS

French MPs vote to add the right to abortion to the constitution

Lawmakers in the French parliament voted on Thursday to add the right to abortion to the constitution in response to recent changes in the United States and Poland.

French MPs vote to add the right to abortion to the constitution

Members of parliament from the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party and the ruling centrist coalition agreed on Thursday on the wording of the new clause, which was then put to a larger vote.

“The law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntarily end a pregnancy,” reads the proposed constitutional addition to article 66.

It was passed in the Assemblée nationale with a large majority – 337 to 32 against, but still needs to be approved in the Senate.    

“It’s a big step… but it’s just the first step,” said centrist MP Sacha Houlie from Macron’s Renaissance party.

The initiative was prompted by the US Supreme Court’s explosive decision this year to overturn the nationwide right to termination procedures for Americans.

In Europe, the conservative government of Poland has also heavily restricted abortion rights.

LFI lawmaker Mathilde Panot said the move was necessary in France to “protect ourselves against a regression”.   

In a speech to parliament, she cited the late French writer and women’s rights activist Simone de Beauvoir.

“We only need a political, economic or religious crisis for the rights of women to come into question,” she said.

The agreement was a rare instance of cooperation between the hard-left LFI and the centrist allies of President Emmanuel Macron – who no longer have an overall majority in the National Assembly.

A previous attempt to inscribe the right to abortion as well as contraception into the constitution, with different wording, was rejected by the conservative-dominated Senate in October.

Many conservative and Catholic politicians have announced their misgivings, seeing it as unnecessary given the legal protections already in place.

“It appears totally misplaced to open a debate which, although it exists in the United States, does not exist in France,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement this week.

“No political group is thinking about questioning access to abortions,” she said.

Parliamentary records initially showed Le Pen voting in favour of the change on Thursday, but these were later corrected to reveal she was not there for the vote. Her spokesman said this was due to a medical issue. MPs from her party and the right-wing Les Républicains abstained.

Abortion was legalised in France in 1974 in a law championed by health minister Simone Veil, a women’s rights icon granted the rare honour of burial at the Pantheon by Macron upon her death in 2018.

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