Pharmacies report antibiotic shortage

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Norwegians are still coping with a butter shortage and now face an antibiotic shortage. An outbreak of pneumonia last year led to heavy demand for the most commonly prescribed antibiotic, erythromycin, and pharmacies have since either run low or out of supplies.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Monday that the shelves may be bare until late March or April. Other antibiotics are available but not erythromycin, which is effective against respiratory tract infections and can generally be used by those with an allergy to penicillin.

“When sales are much higher than expected, supplies of erythromycin in Norwegian packaging and produced for the Norwegian market can run out,” Steinar Madsen, medical director of Statens Legemiddelverket, the state agency regulating medicines, told Aftenposten.

Madsen said it “takes a certain amount of lead time” to produce the antibiotic in Norwegian packaging, if drug makers are preoccupied with producing drugs for other countries, in other packaging in other languages.

He said consumption of erythromycin doubled many times over last autumn, because of an outbreak of the strain of pneumonia known as mycoplasma. Anyone diagnosed with mycoplasma can confirm its serious cough, feelings of exhaustion and how it can hang on for a long time, and it was rampant in Norway, also last winter.

Madsen said several other antibiotics on the market can replace erythromycin for patients with a need to treat respiratory ailments with antibiotics. If they run out as well, during this time of year when respiratory infections are most common, Norwegian authorities may need to import drugs from abroad in other packaging.

“We’re following the situation closely,” Madsen told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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