Due to drug shortages, Japanese pharmacies are struggling to maintain adequate supplies of cough suppressants, expectorants, and other medications. This issue has been ongoing for several years, with many manufacturers of generic drugs being ordered to suspend operations over flawed testing and quality problems. The demand for these drugs has also risen due to the spread of seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus infections after the novel coronavirus was downgraded to a Category 5 disease under the infectious diseases control law.
Despite the government's request to pharmaceutical companies to expand production and the provision of subsidies for labor costs, pharmacies have not seen a significant improvement in supply. Pharmacies continue to experience difficulties in obtaining sufficient quantities of cough suppressants, expectorants, and other drugs.
When a prescribed drug is unavailable, pharmacists are forced to contact doctors to seek alternative medications. In some cases, they even personally deliver additional drugs to patients once they arrive. This situation has caused inconvenience and uncertainty for patients, with some choosing to wait for the same type of drug to become available or seeking it from other pharmacies.
The chairman of the Tokyo Pharmaceutical Association has confirmed that member pharmacists have reported similar problems. He emphasized that the overall supply needs to increase significantly to ensure the availability of drugs in sufficient volumes. The return to normal levels is anticipated to take two to three years.
The Ministry of Health has acknowledged the unmet demand and intends to accelerate the disbursement of subsidies to drugmakers. Additionally, they will consider revising drug prices in fiscal 2024 to encourage production. As of the end of December, a significant number of drugs were in limited shipments or out of supply, highlighting the urgency of addressing this issue.