Updated October 30
Malta is one of several European countries experiencing a shortage in the life-saving EpiPen, with a local union representative blaming uncertainty around the UK and Brexit.
The GRTU’s president of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Division, Mario Debono, said the emergency treatment for people with allergies was being sourced outside the UK, but problems were also being encountered.
The UK wholesalers have been instructed by the government not to export this drug in order to safeguard stocks and supplies.
Damian Stellini, from JV Pharma, said the product went out of stock earlier this week and a limited supply of it will be back in stock next week.
People with severe allergies carry the EpiPen as an emergency treatment in case they go into anaphylactic shock and have been left in a state of anxiety due to the unavailability of the auto-injector.
Mr Debono advised people who depend on EpiPen to go to their local pharmacy and reserve it.
Brexit has taken a huge toll on this product
“We recognise the seriousness of the problem and we are doing everything in our power to ensure that it’s available.
“Until this mess with Brexit is over, it’s hard to tell when these shortages will end,” Mr Debono said.
That claim was however contested by a UK government spokesperson, who insisted EpiPen shortages had nothing to do with Brexit (see below).
EpiPen injectors have a shelf life of just three to four months and were also out of stock earlier this year.
A woman who regularly stocks EpiPen for her child told Times of Malta the last time she found the auto-injector was on October 14 and at that point the only pharmacy that stocked it was located in Fgura.
Fortunately for her family, her husband travels for work and is able to purchase supplies of the EpiPen while he is away.
Other scarcities, generally of “high-end” medications such as oncology medication, and drugs to treat multiple sclerosis, digestive tract ailments, mental health treatments and fibromyalgia started to be felt around two years ago, said Mr Debono.
Three years after Britons voted to leave the European Union, fear of a no-deal Brexit and the resulting medicine shortages the exit could cause has spurred an export ban on critical medications.
“Brexit has taken a huge toll on this product and other medicines. It is in short supply all over Europe,” Mr Debono said.
'Nothing to do with Brexit' - UK
A spokesperson at the UK's Department of Health and Social Care however insisted that EpiPen shortages had nothing to do with Brexit.
"The EpiPen shortages are caused by global supply problems and are affecting a number of countries. EpiPens are not manufactured in the UK – we import them in the same way Malta does – and it has nothing to do with Brexit," they said.
To help deal with potential shortages, UK authorities had introduced restrictions on parallel exports of EpiPens, the spokesperson added.
Parallel exporting is the practice of importing a good only to then export it on to another country at a higher price.
EpiPen shortages predated Brexit and the parallel exporting restrictions also had nothing to do with the UK's decision to quit the EU, they added.
Brexit will lead to higher medicine prices
The GRTU's Mr Debono also warned that Brexit was likely to impact the price of pharmaceuticals, due to increased compliance and repackaging costs as UK pharmaceuticals may not be available in Malta.
Anything from the UK will be classified as a third country outside the EU.
“The era of cheap pharmaceuticals is over,” Mr Debono said, “there will definitely be an increase in price, but it’s impossible to predict when it will happen.”
Pharmaceutical companies in Malta have stocked up on medication at great cost in human and capital resources.
In there’s a hard-Brexit, it will buy them time to source medication elsewhere, said Mr Debono. In the eventuality of a soft Brexit, it will allow the parties involved more time to negotiate.
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