Shortage of medicines forces Swiss pharmacists to adopt unusual methods

Pregnant woman was prescribed labor medicine intended for cows due to same active ingredient in Vaud, says report

Timo Kirez  | 30.06.2023 - Update : 02.07.2023
Shortage of medicines forces Swiss pharmacists to adopt unusual methods


Pharmacists in Switzerland are now resorting to unconventional measures in order to ensure continued access to essential medications for the population.

According to the Swiss daily 20 Minuten, the hospital in Interlaken in the canton of Bern had to make a special order from Germany to obtain a missing heart medication.

However, due to the German drug having four times the dosage of the one commonly used in Switzerland, the tablet is being divided into four parts, with each part administered separately.

"We do it with a device, but it's not completely accurate," Interlaken pharmacist Sandro Giger told 20 Minuten.

The chief pharmacist of the Bernese Oberland hospitals of Frutigen, Meiringen and Interlaken, Enea Martinelli, confirmed to the newspaper that medicines are also imported from other countries, such as a fever-reducing syrup from England.

In that case, however, a German package insert would have to be added in each case, he said. "That is then our responsibility," Martinelli said.

If the required medication is still unavailable, the use of veterinary medications can be considered as an alternative, he further noted.

In one instance, in Vaud, the cantonal pharmacist prescribed contraceptives intended for cows to a pregnant woman, as they contained the same active ingredient, making it a viable solution

The Swiss government's task force to combat drug shortages primarily relieves pharmacists of administrative work, Martinelli added. In addition, it is now possible to dispense individual blisters to patients instead of the entire package.

Switzerland is currently facing a shortage of over 970 medications that fall under health insurance coverage. This shortage encompasses a wide range of medications, including painkillers, antibiotics, psychopharmaceuticals, and rheumatism medications.

One contributing factor to this shortage is the scarcity of active ingredients. Delays in manufacturing these ingredients in China, where they are often produced, have been caused by stringent COVID-19 measures.

Additionally, there is a growing scarcity of specialty glass used in the pharmaceutical industry. The rise in energy prices due to the conflict in Ukraine is one of the factors contributing to this scarcity.

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