Medication

Pharmacy asked about HRT drug shortage – ‘Will it kill?’

Image of HRT

A woman applies an HRT patch.
Photo: 123RF

A Hawke’s Bay GP says women are facing serious physical and psychological risks as the shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs reaches an emergency level.

Dr Samantha Newman launched a national survey on Friday to collect the real-life experiences of HRT users who have been denied access to their regular medication or have dwindled supplies.

The survey results showed that women were unable to work or parent effectively due to stress, they were mentally ill with anxiety, depression and suicide or physically with sweating, beating heart, severe fatigue and joint pain.

“I got an email from a woman who was worried about her health,” Newman said.

“She wanted to kill herself before her doctor prescribed her HRT, and now that she can’t, she’s scared. The news I hear every hour is scary.

“I am very concerned about the mental, emotional and physical health of HRT users. Will it take death before the government takes action?”

The world’s supply of estrogen patches began to run out several years ago but Pharmac was slow to act, he said.

The pharmacy says it is doing everything in its power to ensure continued access to scraps, but it cannot prevent further supply cuts and the situation is likely to continue until 2025.

Dr Newman is calling for urgent action from Pharmacy and the Ministry of Health to find other options and provide education and support to all concerned about what they can do.

“We need the government to understand that these medicines are not a good choice to have or a way of life – they are not a supplement, or a vitamin. They are essential medicines and without them, people are suffering.”

He said users were choosing to halve their remaining scraps or pay higher costs for alternatives.

“One woman told us she pays $200 every few months for the gel,” he said.

“However as of last week, we now know from the supplier of the jelly product that its stock is also about to run out.

“Women have nowhere to turn and no information, and the Ministry of Health, Pharmace and the government are not telling them anything.”

It was Pharmaceu’s job to plan ahead so people could continue to get their medication, Newman said, asking why other forms – including gels, tablets and sprays – they had not been approved in the country and given money for use.

“Furthermore, the Australian authorities have approved other types of patches called Estramon and Estradiol, until stocks of the popular brand Estradot are replenished this month,” he said.

The results of the research will be shared with government agencies and David Seymour, minister responsible for Pharmacy.

‘We do our best’ – Pharmacy

The pharmacy said demand for patches has more than doubled from about 1.3 million patches in 2021 to three million in 2023, and that was only expected to grow.

The group’s chief medical officer Alexandra Compton said they were aware that people were unable to access other types of patches as there was a global supply problem.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure that people can continue to receive this treatment. We have been working closely with the supplier of the oestradiol patches. We have found other types of patches to try to keep up with the demand,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we have not been able to prevent further supply cuts.”

He said that the Pharmacy had recently offered to sell the packets and would provide more information when the supplier was confirmed.

“Pharmacy is conducting a competitive process to buy oestradiol gel. We are currently reviewing the proposals we have received. We intend to provide more information on this proposal at the end of July.”

But he admitted that it was not a quick fix and the situation could continue until 2025.

The pharmacy urged people to talk to their health professionals about what treatments are available, saying it supports oestradiol valerate tablets, oestradiol tablets, oestradiol and norethisterone and conjugated equine estrogen tablets.

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