1 Feb 2023

Supply problem forces fluoxetine rationing

4:13 pm on 1 February 2023

The supplier of the drug - also known as Fluox or Prozac - is due to change this year. Photo: (By M.Minderhoud CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pharmac has ordered pharmacists to limit handouts of a drug used to treat depression and anxiety due to a supply issue.

Until the end of February, pharmacists can only dispense seven days' supply of fluoxetine at a time, rather than the usual month.

Pharmac said about 46,000 people were on monthly prescriptions, while 32,000 already get it weekly.

Pharmacists can only hand out more if the patient has limited mobility, lives a long way from the pharmacy, is moving away or will be travelling when the next repeat would otherwise be needed.

The supplier of the drug - also known as Fluox or Prozac - is due to change this year, and the incumbent - Viatris - was meant to have enough stock until June, but it had run out.

Pharmac operations director Lisa Williams said it was investigating why that happened.

Meanwhile, the new supplier, Teva, was bringing extra stock into the country and it should have enough by March.

Williams said they had a few days' notice of the supply issue, which was "incredibly frustrating".

"We're very hopeful that the dispensing limit that we've put in place will ensure that people don't run out of stock, and have access to what they need.

"What we're also doing is looking to see if there's any other stock of fluoxetine in the world that we can secure and have air freighted to New Zealand.

"We're just really sorry that this has happened and assure people that we're doing our best to make sure that product is available to the people that need it."

The supply issue was with 20mg capsules - but a dispersible version of the drug, usually funded only for people who could not swallow capsules, could be prescribed temporarily if that was all pharmacists had available, Williams said.

If people were concerned about the potential of running out, they should speak with their prescriber to see if there was an alternative drug they could change to.

"But our advice from our clinical advisors is that's not an easy thing to do for some patients, so it's really important for us to secure this product and ensure it's available."

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