Headache for Pharmac after drug stock runs out

Headache for Pharmac after drug stock runs out

The Pharmacy Guild has slammed the government-funded agency Pharmac for not having alternative suppliers at hand, after a drug used for treating cluster headaches ran out in December due to distribution problems.

Those who suffer from cluster headaches will say it's a pain so severe it has been known to make people take their own life.

There is an instant relief in the form of an injection -- but Pharmac stocks in New Zealand have run out.

Pharmac won't get delivery until mid-March at the earliest -- so sufferers are worried about what happens in the coming months.

Those who suffer from the condition have posted videos online to show just how serious they are in comparison to your average headache.

Categorised on a different level to migraines, 'suicide headaches' will often leave people hitting their head against a wall or pushing down on their eyes in distress.

It is a relatively rare condition affecting 1 to 2 people in every 1000, most commonly men, and Lee Hohaia, chief executive at the Pharmacy Guild is asking why Pharmac didn't have a backup plan.

"Pharmacists are understandably concerned -- they want to be able to access medicines for their patients and so they give us a call for advice on how to manage that stock shortage.

"We think that a lot of the stock shortages relate to the sole supply methodology or the issues that flow out of it -- if there's a sole supply it means that there's only one medicine of that type available in New Zealand so if there is a shortage it means there isn't a backup for the patient to use. If there were multiple listings on the schedule of any medicine then at least there's a backup product in New Zealand for the patient to use if there is a stock shortage of an individual medicine."

The drug also comes in pill form which is still available -- but that is most effective for migraine sufferers.

Those who have these chronic headaches find the pill doesn't have any impact for at least an hour and for many patients worldwide the pain has been too unbearable in the meantime.

The injection can reduce pain within 10 minutes.

Auckland Neurologist Rosamund Hill told Newshub sufferers will go straight past the pill and head for the injection when they feel a cluster headache coming on.

"What we aim to do as soon as the cluster starts is use other medication to try and stop the cluster. So the tablets by mouth you try and sort of settle the cluster down. We don't use the injections and say for the entire cluster, keep taking the injections every day. So you use them at the beginning and when you get each headache."

There is a nasal spray available which is not funded; however this is around $250 a bottle where the injection costs $9 per dose.

Pharmac director of operations, Sarah Fitt says the agency is working desperately to try and get the situation amended, and the affected patients out of trouble.

"We take this really seriously. The last thing we want is patients to run out of any of their regular medication, so obviously we work as hard as we can to avoid that situation where it runs out. So we are working as hard as we can to find an alternative."

She says the shortage isn't just a New Zealand problem, but instead a worldwide issue and they are working actively with their supplier.