FRANCE 2 – THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 9 AT 10.55 p.m. – DOCUMENTARY
“I cannot bear the idea that my husband died because there was a supply disruption”, Claudette hammers. Her husband, Michel, died suddenly in 2016, at the Nantes University Hospital, while he was being treated for blood cancer. He had received a substitution molecule for the planned drug due to a momentary shortage of stock.
“How many patients are deprived of the best treatment to cure themselves?” “, asks Julie Lotz, freelance journalist, for the weekly investigative magazine “Complément d’études”, from France 2. Anti-infectives – including antibiotics -, drugs for the nervous system (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s…), anticancer drugs… In France, one in four patients has already faced a shortage of medicines. According to the consumer association UFC-Que Choisir, 2,400 drugs would have been lacking in 2020, four times more than in 2016, the year of the death of Claudette’s husband.
Despite numerous alerts from health professionals and a plan designed in 2019 by Agnès Buzyn, then Minister of Health, this dramatic situation is worsening from year to year. Why is there a lack of so-called “major therapeutic interest” drugs (for which the vital prognosis of patients can be engaged in the event of interruption)?
The search for maximum profitability has led laboratories, on the one hand, to massively outsource the manufacture of raw materials for drugs, particularly in Asia, which is less expensive; on the other hand, to organize the shortage themselves in order to explode the prices and therefore their profits. The business strategies of the pharmaceutical industry are causing “A global problem for ten years and more and more affecting the European Union, with a significant impact on patient care”, according to the European Medicines Agency.
With massive outsourcing, caregivers are sometimes at the mercy of a single supplier, which has only one factory, which is itself fallible. Julie Lotz went to these hospital pharmacies, which have experienced, in these times of SARS-CoV-2, serious shortages of curare, a substance essential to intubate patients in respiratory distress. She tells the story of Marc, who has lived with a urine bag since his bladder was removed following repeated shortages of his cancer treatment. She points to the passivity of the French government.
Testimonials from urologist Marc Colombel and biologist Eliane Mandine, ex-employee of Sanofi, are damning. “Does a laboratory which achieves 80% of its turnover thanks to social security in France have the right to abandon essential treatments? “, asks the documentary filmmaker. A question to which Sanofi, which paid four billion euros in dividends to its shareholders in early 2021, was careful not to answer.
Drug shortages: what are the labs playing at?, documentary by Julie Lotz (Fr., 2021, 52 min). Available on France.tv.