Why Do Some OTC Medicines Disappear from Pharmacies?

Posted on: 29 October 2018

Over the years, people often develop attachments to certain medicines, They may use the same cough syrup when they have a cough, the same tablets when they have an allergy and the same painkillers when they get a headache. Often, they do this because the product worked for them initially and continues to deliver.

If you have an attachment to a certain medicine, then you may be shocked when you next go to buy some only to find there is none left in your pharmacy. Your pharmacist tells you that the medicine has been taken out of circulation. Why does this happen to over-the-counter medicines, and will you ever get your favourite medicine back?

Why Are Some Medicines Withdrawn?

OTC medicines are tested before they are allowed to be sold to the public. However, sometimes a medicine has an issue that wasn't apparent when it was originally tested.

For example, health officials may realise that the medicine isn't being used correctly and is posing more of a risk to the general population than it should. In 2018, Australia took codeine out of pharmacies and stores and switched it from an OTC medicine to a prescription-only one.

In this case, the withdrawal was based on people getting addicted to codeine products. In others, it may be something more mundane. For example, if a product doesn't sell well, its manufacturer may decide to withdraw it. Or, if the company creates a new alternative, it might get replaced by that.

Medicines can also sometimes be taken off the shelves if there is an administrative problem such as a delay in a licence renewal or a problem with information on the packaging. This withdrawal isn't generally anything to do with the medicine itself.

Do Medicines Ever Come Back?

If your favourite medicine is withdrawn because of increased risk of harm or a commercial decision by the manufacturer, then there's little chance it will come back. Your pharmacist can help you choose an alternative that is as close to your old medicine as possible.

If a medicine was withdrawn for an administrative issue, then the chances are that it will come back at some point. Your pharmacist may be able to tell you when this will happen. If they don't know, you can ask them to contact their OTC pharmaceutical supplier, who may have information on when the medicine will be added back into the supply chain.