The Women's Health Resource. On the web since 1997.

Drug Industry Prepares for Y2K Rush on Prescription Medicines (dateline October 11, 1999)

 With the end of the millennium less than three months away, the health care industry predicts customers will rush to stock up on prescription medicines. Three years ago in Sweden, customers bombarded pharmacies to beat the January 1, 1997 national health system regulation changes that would require patients to pay for several classes of prescription drugs that had been previously dispensed free of charge. This year experts anticipate a similar panic in the United States, though both the drug manufacturers and the FDA say they are ready with a surplus of drugs on hand.

SmithKline Beecham PLC set up a Y2K project office three years ago to examine the potential drug fallout at the end of 1999. "We’re confident but vigilant," a spokeswoman for the company says, "that the supply of medicines will be enough if customers don’t panic." She confirms that SmithKline Beecham PLC has already increased the output of "life-critical" drugs such as cancer treatments to meet the year-end rush.

Lisbeth Bolin, a marketing executive at Apoteket AB, Sweden’s state-owned pharmacy and drug-distribution group says, "We very well could see hoarding, which in turn could lead to shortages of some medicines. This time the whole world probably would be affected, not just Sweden which was the case back in 1996."

In Europe, manufacturers are quickly increasing drug production. Jeff Harris, chief executive of the British drug-distribution group Alliance Unichem PLC says the United Kingdom authorities have compiled a list of critical medicines and other health-care products that do not have suitable substitutes.

Harris suggests customers keep a two week extra supply of necessary medications at the year’s end, though he admits there is still no accurate estimate of what the actual demand will turn out to be. The United States’ Center for Drug Evaluation and Research ( advises patients to have one extra five to seven day refill supply of medication on hand at the end of 1999, confident that any drug supply problems can be corrected within a week.

An association of drug manufacturers’ reported in April 1999 that one hundred percent of pharmaceutical companies they surveyed, including nearly all of the top twenty research based firms, have Y2K plans in place and are working to ensure "an uninterrupted supply of pharmaceuticals." These companies have also devised "emergency response plans" to deal with any problems with the supply of medicines to patients.

Yet without any surefire method to predict the year-end drug demand, patients on tamoxifen or other medications to treat breast cancer are encouraged to stock up on supplies before the year’s end. 

This article is based on the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition’s October 4, 1999 report, "Drug Industry Braces for Y2K Rush With Stockpiles of Critical Supplies" available at and also references an FDA/CDER report available at