Pharmacy technician Natasha Williams from MedSmart Pharmacy at Duncan Village shows limited supplies of Panadol Cold and Sinus. (Image by KRISTIAN DE SILVA)
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With drug shortages already hitting T&T because of shipping and foreign exchange shortfalls, several sinus and decongestant medicines normally available over the counter have now run out.

Pharmacists say even before the prevalence of Sahara dust led to heavier demand for the drugs, there was a shortage of several drugs including Codeine Linctus, Bisolven Pediatric, Advil Cold and Sinus, Sedo Solvin, Broncho Solvin and Histal Allergy Relief Exlir.

At the popular MedSmart Pharmacy at Duncan Village, pharmacy technician Natasha Williams said antihistamine drugs ran out months ago. She said Panadol Cold and Sinus, Clarityne, Aerius and Loratadine were all they had available for sinus.

“People come through our doors every day asking for these medicines. The Advil Cold and Sinus is popular but now we don’t have it, so we recommend either the Panadol or the Loratadine tablets which they use once per day and it works very well,” Williams said.

She explained that the shortage of sinus drugs was not caused by the Saharan dust.

“This shortage existed long before the dust became bad. It is happening since the pandemic so I most believe it is the shipping issues that could have caused this,” she said.

Prior to the shortage, Williams said people came to the pharmacy and bought big boxes of Advil and other Sinus medicines, which were never replenished because stocks ran out.

Meanwhile, Valmiki Ramnarine, the owner of Valini’s Drug Mart, also shared similar sentiments.

“There has been a shortage of decongestant drugs, like Advil Cold and Sinus. We don’t have anything with pseudoephedrine. All of those liquids are in short supply,” Ramnarine said.

He added that suppliers were not getting their full quota of medicines.

“Countries of manufacture are keeping the drugs for themselves rather than to export,” Ramnarine explained. He said there were shortages in decongestants because of the pandemic and interruptions in the global supply chain.

Ramnarine said he was thankful that supplies were slowly coming back to normal, although in smaller quantities.

When asked whether this has triggered an increase in medicinal costs, Ramnarine responded:

“Prices are not incredibly high. There have been incremental increases, not exorbitant increases. Things in the world are normalizing slowly but I will say there is about a ten per cent or a 15 per cent price increase.”

Meanwhile, the president of the Pharmacy Board, Andrew Rahaman, told Guardian Media that there were also issues being faced with the importation of drugs.

“There have been significant shortages of pharmaceuticals for different reasons. It is not the government’s fault. We have a problem where China has been having problems in the manufacture because of shortage of raw materials and factories are operating at half capacity. Then there are shipping problems,” he explained.

“Apart from these issues, there is also a situation where manufacturers are keeping their drugs for domestic use and are not exporting,” Rahaman said. He noted that foreign exchange was also an issue.

Rahaman said recently it was brought to his attention that there were setbacks involving the Ministry of Heath’s two regulatory bodies—the Drug Inspectorate and the Chemistry Food and Drug Division.

“I understand there are some problems with the regulatory bodies in the Ministry of Health and lots of companies out there are out of stock for a lot of items.  They haven’t given me the details as yet, but they mentioned it is a problem with the regulatory bodies in the Ministry,” Rahaman said.

Last month, the Ministry said some drugs are not necessarily out of stock but are in short supply.