We have a BIG problem here in the UK that no-one is talking about. It’s extremely serious and I simply can’t work out why it’s not been headline news.
As soon as the referendum took place in 2016, voting Britain out of the EU, we started to run seriously short of medicines. Really vital things like anti-rejection drugs for transplant patients, tablets to treat psychosis and heart disease, anaesthetics and even cancer drugs.
Every-day patients started to see shortages of drugs such as HRT, corticosteroids, antibiotics and…………most importantly for me and many of you………….. EPIpens and anti-histamines, amongst loads of other medicines.
I have horrendous GERD. When I don’t take medication I have the equivalent of a cup-full of bleach in my stomach 24 hours of every day, which comes back up through my lax sphincter muscle into my oesophagus and lungs. I then cough so much I develop walking pneumonia and the pain is so bad I’ve genuinely considered topping myself.
For some-one as drug allergic as I am, finding medication I could tolerate to help with the reflux was a year-long journey, but several anaphylactic reactions to various types of drugs later I found I could take Famotidine, an H2 antagonist which controls stomach acid through an anti-histamine action. Not only did this help my GERD, but it’s also had a knock-on effect on some other MCAD symptoms like hives and muscle pain.
It’s not the H2 drug of choice for most people. The common H2 antagonist used to treat reflux is ranitidine, brand-name Zantac. However, last autumn there was a ranitidine recall as some batches had been found to contain high levels of a potential carcinogen so everyone, and his dog, switched from ranitidine to famotidine causing a global shortage.
I started having issues getting hold of famotidine in November 2019 and it’s been an ongoing problem. I’ve even tried to import famotidine, in the form of Pepcid a/c, from abroad but it’s just not available. As a consequence, I’ve gone weeks with the equivalent of Domestos burning me from the inside out which causes ulcers taking months to heal. If anyone reading this is taking famotidine or Pepcid who doesn’t really need it or could use something else like Omeprazole (a PPI) please, I beg you, switch.
In March this year, at the start of the pandemic, the drug situation in the UK got a whole lot worse. Now, not only can I not get hold of famotidine for my stomach acid I also can’t get hold of the only brand of pain killer I can tolerate for my horrendously painful migraines. It’s Sainsburys own child’s ibuprofen suspension, which has been out of stock now for over 2 months. There are other ibuprofen suspensions, such as Calprofen, but they all contain bloody stupid flavourings, colourings and other shite which my immune system objects to – Sainsburys was the only one that I could take and I’m down to my last 1/3 of a bottle. Having recently had 9 migraines in 12 days which I’ve barely been able to control with pain killers, I can’t imagine my life without 😥.
No-one really seems to know what the drug shortages here in the UK are really about. There are loads of theories, but because it’s not really been covered by the media the government haven’t been forced to provide an explanation, so the real reasons are anyone’s guess. And because it’s been swept under the carpet, the government haven’t been forced into doing anything about it which means it’s just going to continue.
There has to be some silver linings to come out of Covid-19, otherwise it’s all been for nothing. I hope one of the up-sides is that the UK start to manufacture their own drugs. That way, we wouldn’t have to depend on other countries who could withdraw or withhold at will. We have the skill and we have the technology – all it would take is a financial commitment from our government and if they can provide pop-up intensive care hospitals across the country in less than 4 weeks they can provide laboratories to make medicines.
Of course, it’s much more complex than that. Drugs are patented and licensed, which means the originating company can hold the entire world to ransom – a situation so morally bankrupt it’s sickening. The world needs to come together on this issue and agree a solution. It’s do-able, the pandemic has shown us that. If there is a common will and a common goal, such as a vaccine for Covid-19, we are all willing to give medicine away for free. I don’t see how that differs to drugs for cancer, a killer disease which affects 1 in 2 of us during our lifetime.
The situation has to change and sooner rather than later. That it’s gone on this long is reprehensible.