COVID-19: Pharmacies urge people not to stockpile as prescription medicine supplies run low

Some common prescription medicines are proving hard to get, but Pharmac is urging New Zealanders not to stockpile.

Medications like Losartan, commonly taken for blood pressure; anti-inflammatory drugs Celecoxib and Pregabalin; and certain specialised Aptamil baby formulas are in short supply globally.

General Practitioners say in some cases they’re having to prescribe alternatives to patients who can’t get the pills they’ve been on for years.

"I would say 15- 20 percent of our drug orders every day would have some sort of compromise in supply," Pharmacist Kevin Burgess says.

COVID-19 has hit medical supply chains hard in New Zealand and overseas. From early March, sickness among New Zealand staff at medical warehouses and freight providers has compounded that.

One diabetes drug that was due in New Zealand three months ago has only just arrived.

"This has become a real problem in the last few weeks in terms of shortages of medications, medications having to be changed, some confusion with patients over what medication they are on, and it's caused a lot of extra work for GPs and pharmacists,"  Royal NZ College of GPs medical director Dr Bryan Betty says.

Pharmac says it's doing its best. 

"NZ has actually held up really well because of the existing contracts Pharmac has with suppliers to hold three months' worth of stock in the country at any one time," Pharmac operations manager Lisa Williams says.

"We really appreciate people have been impacted, what we are asking is please don't stockpile medicines at home - we need to make sure there is enough product for everybody. You just may have to wait."

Dr Betty says the shortage of some medications means GPs are having to prescribe alternatives, and that makes some patients nervous. 

"This is extra stress for patients," Dr Betty says.

And pharmacists see that first-hand too.

"There are safe alternatives to most medicines, but if someone is normally prescribed a 50mg we might have to go down to 12.5mg and tell them to take four tablets a day, and that's where confusion starts for people," Pharmacist Burgess says.

Pharmac insists local supply chain issues will improve by next month as staff return from isolation.

But expect to still see long delays for some specialised baby formulas, nutritional supplements, and prescription meds due in from overseas.