It has been an anxious week for Linny Carney and her nine-year-old daughter Taylor, who both suffer from asthma. They haven’t been able to get vital medicine from any of the pharmacies in Lismore in north-eastern New South Wales. Because they both already have a respiratory illness, they are at greater risk if they contract coronavirus.
Coronavirus sees pharmacies run out of critical medication, endangering the lives of people with chronic illnesses
“I’m happy to stay at home so I don’t get any germs,” Ms Carney told 7.30.
“Each time I go out, that’s a potential death sentence for me.”
She needs a range of medications, including Ventolin.
“I’m feeling quite nervous,” Ms Carney said.
“I have lung function of 38 per cent.
“With the Ventolin — the pharmacist told me he had none and he rang around, and we’ve got nine chemists in Lismore, and all gone.
“I just don’t know what’s around the corner for us.
“On a bad week I can go through a Ventolin in five days.”
Concern about COVID-19 has seen hoarding move beyond toilet paper and hand sanitiser to medications.
For Caroline Diamantis, who owns the Balmain Community Pharmacy in Sydney’s inner west, it is unprecedented.
“I’ve been a pharmacist for 32 years and I’ve never seen anything like this in terms of the panic and fear that we are seeing, the stockpiling and misinformation,” she told 7.30.
“We can’t get thermometers, we can’t get Panadol, and then we can’t get things like Ventolin.
“People decided they should have one (Ventolin) up their sleeve in case they get the virus, then they would be able to breathe better.
“This is misinformation and it has caused such a problem.”
Kristie Archer’s two children, Eden, 12, and Bodie, 15, both have type 1 diabetes.
Daily medication is essential.
“If we didn’t have the medicationm they wouldn’t be able to survive,” Ms Archer told 7.30.
“That’s because their pancreas doesn’t work, so this is doing the job of their pancreas.”
But for the first time ever, Ms Archer has been unable to get one of the medications that both children need.
“The pharmacist came out very apologetic but said they had no stock of NovoRapid and they did not know when the new stock would be coming in,” she said.
Ms Archer says families in the diabetic community across Australia have been reporting similar experiences, with some told it may be weeks before pharmacies receive stock.
“The advice we’re being given is that there is no shortage, they’re saying there is stock, please do not stock up,” she said.
“But that wasn’t what I was doing, I was genuinely out.
“I’ve never had a problem before.”
The Federal Government has introduced restrictions to try to control stockpiling by consumers.
It has placed limits on the dispensing and sales of certain medications, including items such as Ventolin. And children’s Panadol is being held behind the counter.
Medicines Australia represents manufacturers and suppliers of medications.
Its CEO Elizabeth de Somer insists there is not a shortage, just a delay.
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“There is extreme pressure when the consumer base and behaviour is to over-demand medicines,” she told 7.30.
“That leads to a flow-on effect through the supply chain to try and keep filling the orders as quickly as they are being demanded.
“Manufacturers have increased production and manufacturing of supplies. They have brought orders forward, they have increased their orders from overseas manufacturers, and those supplies and those orders are being met.”
Medicines Australia says there are adequate supplies of medication in the country, but won’t say how long that is expected to last.
John Blackburn, from the not-for-profit research group The Institute for Integrated Economic Research Australia, warns that when it comes to medication, Australia is vulnerable at a time of global crisis.
“We have to have a very close look at our import dependencies and say, are we resilient enough?” he told 7.30.
“Because if we import 90 per cent of our medicine, we have very little control over that should they get interrupted.”
‘If you don’t need them, please stop’
In the past 24 hours Ms Carney has managed to buy a single Ventolin inhaler, but her stocks, as well as her spirits, have been boosted by an anonymous act of kindness.
Someone left another packet in her letter box.
“Thanks very much, I’m feeling the love,” she said.
But she is not out of danger and welcomes the steps to control panic buying.
She has a message for those continuing to stockpile asthma medicines.
“If you don’t have a lung condition, if you don’t need them, please stop,” she said.
“Because you are actually endangering lives.”