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Australia’s medicine shortage risks leaving menopausal women without options

Australia has a concerning shortage of hundreds of key medicines with reports showing that women, especially those experiencing menopause, are the most affected.

by Narges Mohammadi

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) lists more than 420 medicines are in short supply, and cites temporary local-level disruptions and COVID-19 as the causes.

Among these medicines, several are treatments used by women to manage menopausal symptoms. One in particular, the HRT patch, has eight of its nine brands in short supply and the remaining one is not available on the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS).

The patches are used by some perimenopausal, menopausal and postmenopausal women to help manage some of the more intrusive symptoms of hormonal fluctuations, such as hot flashes and night sweats, according to the University of Melbourne. The patches applied to the skin like a sticker that delivers oestrogen, specifically the type called oestradiol, directly into the bloodstream.

Most patches last from three days to a week, but without them, menopausal symptoms can return within a matter of hours or days. Other problems with suddenly stopping the hormone include bone loss, hot flashes, insomnia, headaches, mood swings, fatigue, aches and pain, among more symptoms.

The patches can also be used as feminizing’s hormone therapy for gender affirmation.  

The medicine has seen a resurgence in popularity among the two million women in Australia that have recently undergone menopause after a 2019 Lancet paper dispelled myths that the HRT patch causes breast cancer.

Amid the HRT patch shortage, the TGA has released advice telling Australian women to speak to their doctor about alternative options if they’re having difficulty getting their regular medicine. Prescribers are told to consider Australia’s shortages when initiating new patients onto HRT patches.

Experts call for greater government action

“Medicine shortages are becoming more of a problem in Australia, and we need to see a comprehensive strategy from government about how to prevent shortages and how to manage them better when they do occur,” said Professor Jennifer Martin, president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), in a statement on Thursday.

A report from 2020 by the Institute for Integrated Economic Research Australia had warned that: “Australia imports over 90 per cent of medicines and is at the end of a very long global supply chain making the nation vulnerable to supply chain disruptions.”

“Every day that goes by without a strategy to stop, prevent, and manage medicine shortages, we are leaving patients stranded,” said Professor Martin.

Other medicines currently in short supply in Australia include Ritalin to treat ADHD, antibiotic Benzathine Penicillin for upper respiratory tract infections, antidepressant fluoxetine and Ozempic which is approved by the TGA for lowering blood sugar in adults with type 2 diabetes.

Ordine, a morphine oral liquid used to manage severe pain, has been unavailable in Australia since February this year and isn’t expected to be back in supply until late August.

Source: Women’s Agenda

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