1 Dec 2017

How New Zealand came to have a contraceptive pill shortage

2:23 pm on 1 December 2017

Pharmacists are rationing their supplies.


Contraceptive pill tablets.

Photo: Illustration: Pinky Fang

Low oral contraceptive pill stocks will be refreshed next week, but women taking the medication have questioned how the shortage was allowed to happen.

Pharmacists across the country have reported a shortage of popular pill brand Ava 30 and its replacement Levlen ED.

This has led some to ration the pill - dispensing smaller amounts of it at a time, despite the amount prescribed by the patient’s doctor.

Pharmac says the supplier ran out of stock, but a new shipment has arrived in the country and pharmacies will be restocked next week.

Pharmac Director of Operations Sarah Fitt told RNZ that Ava was being replaced by Levlen in New Zealand and Ava's supplier ran out of stock before Levlen's supplier took over.

One 30-year-old woman, who spoke to The Wireless on the condition of anonymity, said it was a ”major concern” that the supply of such an important and widely used drug was able to run low to this extent.

“It makes me distrustful of the systems that are in place to ensure medical supplies in this country are stocked.”

The woman, who uses Ava 30 to manage her period and for contraception, said running out would be an inconvenience for her, but could be more serious for others.

“What if it was another medication it could be potentially life-threatening for some people?”

Another woman, 25-year-old digital advisor Jess, has been on Ava 30 for four years, said it took her a long time to find a pill that didn’t cause bad side effects for her physical and mental health.

Running out of it would cause her stress and pain, she said.

“I started taking it initially because I suffer from chronic migraines and the pill helps balance my hormones levels so I can continue with my life and job. It keeps my migranes at a manageable level to function day to day.”

Jess said having to change to a different pill would mean having a deal with new range of unpleasant and possibly dangerous side effects for her, and probably many other women.

“This is totally a close call and better care should be taken in terms of making sure people have the medication they need available. I think it's really irresponsible that this has happened.”

Pharmacist Heavenna Moon from the CityMed pharmacy in Auckland said she had five prescriptions left of the two most popular brands, Ava 30 and Levlen ED.

She said they had been running out for a month.

Moon said she hoped rationing it out would prevent them from having to turn people away.

"I don't know what other pharmacies are doing at the moment, they might be turning people away already because they don't have stock."