Greece accuses pharma of withholding meds, triggering shortages

Greece and the drug industry aren't getting along so well. After several years of stiffing drugmakers on their bills, the Greek government now accuses more than 50 pharma companies of cutting off supplies of key drugs, the Guardian reports.

Worried patients have flooded pharmacies, looking for the meds that state-backed hospitals can no longer dispense, Greek sources tell the newspaper. The government points fingers at drugmakers. The companies cite those unpaid bills--and parallel trade, in which wholesalers and pharmacists buy meds at Greece's cheap prices for sale in higher-priced markets.

Eight pharma companies may now face fines, Yannis Tountas, president of Greece's National Organization of Medicines, told the Guardian. Tountas wouldn't say which drugmakers, but did offer that they are "big multinational companies." That narrows the list of suspects considerably.

Some drugmakers say they have, indeed, reduced supplies of their drugs. Roche ($RHHBY), with some €200 million in unpaid drug bills, mostly cut off state-run hospitals, but continues to sell to pharmacies. Some "critical medicines" are still available in hospitals, the company says.

Sanofi ($SNY) says it's supplying life-saving, unique or irreplacable drugs to public hospitals, but holding back other products. The "non-unique" drugs it's no longer providing either have generics rivals, or alternative brands recommended under treatment guidelines, the French drugmaker told the newspaper.

Pfizer ($PFE) has pulled four drugs, including leukemia drugs Zavedos and Aracytin and the seizure med Neurontin. The company says alternatives to those meds are available, and it's worried about parallel trade. Other companies have previously said they're selectively discontinuing certain products, such as Novo Nordisk ($NVO) and Biotest.

Meanwhile, other companies on the government's list say they haven't stopped the flow of any products. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) says it has "maintained the uninterrupted supply" to public hospitals. AstraZeneca ($AZN) says the same, and cites a direct-to-pharmacy sales program for stores that might be running low on its products. Novartis ($NVS) and Boehringer Ingelheim also say they haven't stopped supplying the Greek market.

- read the Guardian piece