Y2K: Drugmakers Worry Patients Will Hoard Medicines
Sparked by reports that physicians are urging their patients to stockpile certain medications as the year 2000 approaches, pharmaceutical companies are beginning to map out ways to boost their drug production and help wholesalers deal with larger-than-normal inventories. "One reason we keep saying (stockpiling) is dangerous for the industry and patients is that we can't turn around on a dime," said Merck & Co. Chief Information Officer Dr. Charles Popper. "There's not that much give in the system," he added. If demand spikes, however, Popper said that priority will be given to "life-sustaining" drugs, such as AIDS medicines, and those that are "important profit generators," like Zocor, Merck's cholesterol-lowering medication. The Wall Street Journal reports that in order to gauge demand, Merck is more closely analyzing sales patterns to detect "early signs of hoarding."
Just in Case
To ward off potential problems, drug companies, wholesalers and pharmacies are creating contingency plans, such as procedures for manual order taking and claims processing. In case of transportation failures, Merck's New Jersey operation "will try to locate inventories of critical drugs closer to patients." Other contingency plans may include "refusing to fill orders that are much larger than usual." Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT), chair of the Senate's Y2K subcommittee, argues that one of the best ideas is to launch a public awareness campaign. A potential danger to patients is that pharmaceuticals have limited shelf life, and people who stockpile risk "taking medicines past their expiration dates" (Tanouye, 2/2).