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Brexit effect on drug supplies likely to be more complex than expected

Monday 1st October 2018
Brexit could have a number of unexpected impacts on the supply of medicines in the UK, the BMJ has warned.
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The expected impact of a no-deal Brexit on pharmaceutical supplies in the UK after March 29th next year could be much more complicated than previously thought, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has claimed. 

Doctors are warning that the situation in some cases may be exacerbated by the opportunism of some medicinal suppliers, citing a study in the US covering 2015 and 2016 that showed prices for drugs in short supply were increased by manufacturers.

Another factor mentioned is that of parallel import, which is protected and promoted in the EU. In some countries, including the UK, medicine prices are high, whereas they are low in nations such as Greece and Italy. Therefore, the UK currently re-imports drugs via these cheaper countries and saves money in the process - an opportunity that may vanish post-Brexit.

Conversely, some have argued that re-importing encourages the counterfeiting of drugs and this has directly cost the UK pharmaceutical industry heavily, with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry reporting a £1.2 billion loss from such practices in 2008.

The BMJ report stated: "As a whole, it is of course possible that Brexit will worsen drug shortages in the UK, however consequences are likely to be more complex and possibly less predictable than anticipated."

As an example of this complication, the report noted that while lorazepam is listed as a drug likely to be in short supply after Brexit, it also "went missing" a few years ago and is currently the subject of a supply-side shortage in Italy, along with 2,000 other products.

Pharmacists may therefore need to be ready for a wide range of possible consequences of Brexit, as it is possible a number of drugs may be in short supply, but it is not clear which. 

A number of pharmaceutical companies have made contingency plans by stocking up on extra supplies of some drugs. Novartis and Sanofi both announced such plans during the summer.
Written by James Puckle

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