October 2, 2022

Pharmacists seek help from Prime Minister Imran as paracetamol shortage gives headaches

ISLAMABAD: As paracetamol painkillers continue to be in short supply across the country, an association of pharmacists have claimed the shortage is designed to create space for a new high-dose variant of the drug being sold at threefold rates higher.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan and available from Dawnthe Pakistan Young Pharmacists Association (PYPA) noted that the price of a 500mg paracetamol tablet had already been increased from Re 0.90 to Rs 1.70 in the past four years.

Now, according to the association, a shortage was being created for patients to switch to the more expensive 665mg tablet.

“It is strange that while the price of the 500mg tablet is Rs 1.70, the 665mg variant sells for up to Rs 5.68,” said PYPA General Secretary Dr Furqan Ibrahim. Dawn – meaning citizens would pay an additional Rs 4 per pill for an extra quantity of just 165mg.

“We are concerned that a shortage of 500mg drugs has been created deliberately so that healthcare practitioners start prescribing 665mg tablets,” he said.

Paracetamol – the generic name for a drug used to treat mild to moderate pain and reduce fever – is an over-the-counter (OTC) drug, which means it can be obtained from pharmacies without a prescription.

In Pakistan, it is available under several brand names – such as Panadol, Calpol, Disprol and Febrol – as tablets and an oral suspension.

The drug recently vanished from many pharmacies across the country amid rising Covid-19 and dengue fever cases.

PYPA said the drug was still in short supply even after the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic largely subsided.

In the letter to the Prime Minister, the association also alleged that raising the price of the drug by just one paisa (0.01 Re) per pill would help the pharmaceutical industry reap an additional profit of Rs 50 million per pill. year.

He urged the Prime Minister to investigate and expose the elements involved in the “conspiracy” and to spare patients from paying extra for just 165mg of extra medicine.

Dr Ibrahim said the 665mg paracetamol tablets had been banned in most European countries, while in Australia they were not available without a prescription.

“Similarly, 325mg and 500mg paracetamol tablets are more common in the United States. This is done because paracetamol poisoning has been steadily increasing there. We must also take action in this regard before it is too late,” he said.

However, a senior official from the Pakistan Drug Regulatory Authority (Drap), asking not to be named, said the formulation of the 500mg and 665mg tablets were slightly different.

“The majority of patients are using 500mg tablets and we will ensure that the supply of this variant is not interrupted. The addition of the 665mg tablet will give patients a choice,” he said.

Asked about the huge price difference between the two variants, the official said that the price of the 500mg paracetamol tablets will also be increased soon, as a case falling under the “difficulty category” had been referred to the federal cabinet.

Drug makers earlier warned that they could not continue producing the drug at the current price due to the rising cost of imported raw materials from China.

Posted in Dawn, March 14, 2022