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New Zealand: shortage of phenytoin tablets

8 January, 2003

The president of the Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand has blamed the government for the shortage of a number of prescription drugs, including the anti-epileptic drug Dilantin (phenytoin).

The tendering process by which Pharmac, the government's drug-buying agency, was partly at fault, according to Richard Heslop. Speaking on National Radio he said that the tendering methods had "screwed down" the profits of the pharmaceutical companies to such an extent that some companies had pulled out of New Zealand, were downsizing or reducing the level of drug stock available.

Mr Heslop said:

"It is very dangerous in some circumstances... In other cases it's inconvenient. But if it carries on and the type of product that its happening to, it's potentially fatal. I mean the epilepsy one you're talking about, you cannot just swap one epilepsy drug for another one. The drugs must be the ones that have been originally prescribed, otherwise the person could start having epileptic fits."

Pharmac's Chief Executive, Wayne McNee, defended the actions of the agency, saying that the responsibility was with the drug manufacturers:

"Pharmac is working hard with suppliers to make sure that products are available because we are concerned that patients get access to treatments, but as far as we're aware there aren't any significant issues at the moment".