x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Xanax to be back in stock soon, officials say

Some pharmacies have not had supplies of the anti-anxiety drug for months.

DUBAI // The maker of a popular anti-anxiety drug that has been unavailable across the country for the past three weeks says it should be back on pharmacy shelves soon.

Pfizer yesterday said supplies of Xanax, used to treat panic attacks and anxiety disorders, would be supplied to its UAE agent within 24 hours, after which it would be sent to pharmacies and hospitals.

Some pharmacies have not had supplies for months.

"None of our other branches have it and it has not been available in the market for about three to four months," said a pharmacist from the Bin Sina chemist at Dubai Mall.

"We have a lot of people coming in with prescriptions, asking for it, but we tell them that it has been temporarily discontinued."

A pharmacist from Al Noor Hospital in the capital said patients were being told to use a substitute drug containing alprazolam, the active ingredient in Xanax.

One of Xanax's distributors, Modern Pharmaceutical Company, blamed the delay on "administrative procedures" involved with relocating a factory from Italy to Germany.

"There was a delay in some of the paperwork with the manufacturer," said Senthil Kumar, a tender coordinator with Modern Pharmaceutical. "We asked for a special approval from the ministry to make the process quicker."

Dr Fatma Al Braiki, the director of pharmaceutical registration and control at the Ministry of Health, said import approval of the product was immediately granted when the maker requested it last Thursday.

Dr Al Braiki expected Xanax to be available in the next few days.

"Xanax has always been approved and this approval will not be withdrawn unless there is a change in the medicine itself," she said.

Pfizer thanked the ministry for its quick action.

"We recognise and appreciate the role of the Ministry of Health in issuing the needed import permits and facilitating the approval process for clearing Xanax, which helped to avoid a severe prolonged shortage of this medicine from in the market," the company said.

Sudden unavailability of medication can "jeopardise a patient's health", warned Dr Yousef Abou Allaban, the medical director of the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi.

"It can cause a patient to relapse or suffer withdrawal symptoms," Dr Abou Allaban said.

Xanax is a controlled drug, meaning it can only be obtained by prescription from certain doctors. The difference between it and other benzodiazepines, used to treat sleep disorders and anxiety, is its quick response. But it is this same property that can make it addictive, Dr Abou Allaban said.

"Yes, it is true that this drug is widely abused and prescribed in an unprofessional way," he said.

"But it also has many benefits if used under a doctor's care in a judicious manner."

Lapses in supplies of medicines were not out of the ordinary, Dr Abou Allaban said. He said there had been recent problems with Zoloft, an antidepressant, and Lamictal, a mood stabiliser.

"It's been happening yearly for the last five years, and not only with this medication," Dr Abou Allaban said.

"Everyone gives you a different reason so we stopped asking."

The psychiatrist is now prescribing the anti-anxiety drug Rivotril as a substitute.

But he said using an alternative medication did not always produce the same results.

"I have one patient who has been using Xanax with great results over the last seven or eight years and he doesn't respond to other medication the same way," Dr Abou Allaban said.

"Those responsible need to understand the impact this has on the patient's treatment."

mismail@thenational.ae