Drugs shortage sees France restart local production and target antibiotics use

France  Joel SagetAFP
FEB 22, 2024 LISTEN
© Joel Saget/AFP

The French government has published a roadmap to address a growing shortage of medicines. It provides doctors and pharmacists with tools to prescribe alternatives, urges the use of fewer antibiotics and jumpstarts local production of key drugs.

As in much of Europe, France is facing increasing shortages of medications of all kinds – from insulin to anti-cancer drugs, though the most problematic are antibiotics, paracetamol and corticoids

In 2023, the National drug safety agency logged 4,925 low stock alerts, compared to 3,761 the year before.

The new three-year “roadmap” to address these shortages from 2024 to 2027, published Wednesday, plans to increase oversight on 450 drugs considered essential.

Drug shortages are linked to an increase global demand for medication as well as an insufficient local production capacity. Critics also point to pharmaceutical companies who have been raising prices on certain products.

The roadmap encourages doctors to avoid prescribing drugs facing shortages by giving them access to a database allowing them to see their availability in real time.

This will allow them to “either prescribe something else, or work the dosage”, explained Health Minister Catherine Vautrin.

Pharmacists will also be provided with more information about alternatives.

Reducing antibiotics

In 2023 amoxicillin, particularly for children, was difficult to come by in France, and in the face of shortages of all kinds of antibiotics, the government wants to encourage patients and doctors to use them more judiciously.

Antibiotic use shot up in 2022, following a drop during the Covid pandemic.

"If antibiotic consumption remained globally downward since 2012, it went up in 2022 higher than in 2021,” according to an annual study published at the end of 2023 by the national health agency Santé Publique France 

France remains Europe's fourth top consumer of antibiotics, warns the roadmap. It encourages doctors to provide patients with “prescriptions for over-the-counter antibiotics”, to explain why they have not prescribed them the medicine.

Beyond information, the government recommends adapting antibiotic packaging, so as not to waste unused medication.

Local production

Part of the plan is to have 25 “strategic medications” produced in France, which depends heavily on products and molecules produced outside of the country and of Europe.

"The best way to not lack something is to make it here, in France and in Europe,” said Roland Lescure, in charge of industry for the Economy Ministry, after a meeting with actors in the pharmaceutical sector.

The government plans to reveal the names of factories that will receive aid to produce in France by May.

The first European paracetamol factory is expected to open in 2025 in Toulouse, which will ease dependence on China, India and the United States, which produce 85 percent of the molecule used in Europe.

(with AFP)