Medicine shortages: what to know and how to manage them.

Posted: Nov 11 2022

Medicine shortages continue to be a problem in Australia, which is affecting many people who are reliant on medication to maintain a healthy life.

There are currently over 300 individual medicines on the shortages list as managed by the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA). A further 85 are identified as a potential future shortage in the coming months based on manufacturer information.

Why are there shortages?

There are many national and international causes impacting the local supply of medicines. Australia imports 90% of our medicines from overseas, which puts us at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to supply as we consume only 2% of the global medicines market.

  • Disruption to manufacturers - Shutdown of global raw ingredient manufacturing sites (located in China and India mainly), largely due to COVID and natural disasters.
  • COVID impacts - restrictions and added costs in international shipping and supply.
  • High demand - specific drugs have seen an increase in demand due to an increase in disease states across the world, as developing nations experience western health conditions.
  • Unused medicines - Pharmacists were concerned about stock dating (e.g. travel vaccines) during the pandemic so have reduced their stock holding accordingly.
  • Panic buying - People concerned about supply and the pandemic have stockpiled certain medicines (especially schedule 2 medicines i.e. Children’s Panadol).
  • Medicine profitability – a number of drugs have withdrawn from the Australian market due to price reform pressures and lowered profitability.

What is the Government doing to address the issue?

In the short term the Government is investing in:

  • A mandatory 4-6 month minimum stock holding in Australia agreement by suppliers of designated PBS medicines (around 3,000) - due July 2023
  • Temporarily changing the rules around medication substitution – many medicines that are in short supply can be substituted with another medicine type, brand, dose or pack size. These rules are currently in place with Doctors and pharmacists.
  • A one-off price review of low priced medicines on the PBS to raise their prices – due to come into effect 1 October 2022.

To address the drug shortages in the long term, investment in local manufacturing will occur, however this will take some years to support the industry.

What to do if there is a shortage of your medication

Call Health Partners

We’ll do the ringing around for you. If you are having trouble locating a hard to find item Health Partners can help by locating stock within our participating pharmacy network. We can also help provide you with information on current drug shortages.

Speak with your doctor

Your doctor will provide the next best alternatives for your condition. It might mean:

  • The prescribing of a different brand of medicine using the same ingredient
  • The prescribing of a different medicine altogether. These may/may not be PBS subsidised.

Speak with your pharmacist

They may be able to:

  • Place you on a waiting list and ask you to return at a later time to collect your medicine if the pharmacy does not have your or any brands in stock;
  • Change the brand of medicine as multiple brands often use the same active ingredient (i.e. generic medicines);
  • Source variables of the medicine from a wholesaler (there are 4+ wholesalers in Australia they can access medicines from);
  • In some cases they are able to substitute a higher or lower strength of the product. It will mean you need to take the medicine differently to get the same dose. This can be confusing and risky for some patients, especially if they take multiple medicines, so always consult your pharmacist or doctor beforehand.

Shop around

If the medicine is over the counter, there is normally more than one brand of the same drug. For example Paracetamol 500mg can be known as Panadol, Panamax, Tylenol etc. Small pack sizes of common s2 medicines can also be accessed from supermarkets, so look for alternative pack sizes.

Health Partners Participating Pharmacies

Call your local pharmacy or other pharmacies in the area that are in the Health Partners participating pharmacy scheme so you can still make the most of your pharmacy benefits.

Health Partners Pharmacy Support Service

If you’re having problems sourcing your medicine, call us on 1300 113 113 and let us help you.

  • Pharmacy benefits - As a Health Partners Extras member, you save on scripts^ at our participating pharmacies in South Australia. We can check if your prescription is covered under the pharmacy benefits. On eligible covers, you’ll only pay up to $40 per private or compounding prescription, or up to $20 per PBS prescription (not already subsidised by the Government), with the gap covered up to your annual limit.

Find a Health Partners participating pharmacy

Find out more


^PBS prescriptions that are not already subsidised by the Government and Private and compounding prescriptions, no benefits apply to Government subsidised scripts. Speak to your pharmacist to understand if your script is subsidised. Including vaccinations, hormone implants, allergen implants and IVF-associated drugs.

Posted: Nov 11 2022


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

© Copyright Health Partners. 2024 All Rights Reserved.

Health Partners is committed to providing quality and affordable health care, and we value our members and our obligation to protect your privacy. As part of our responsibility in protecting your privacy, from time to time we review our policies to ensure we are meeting our obligations. We have recently made some updates to our Privacy Policy. Please click here to view the Health Partners Privacy Policy.

Contact Us

1300 113 113 Sat 9am - 1pm

Send us a message

Contact options and opening hours

View all