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Japan hit with acetaminophen shortage as demand soars amid COVID surge

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TOKYO -- The Japanese drug firm manufacturing acetaminophen has been adjusting shipments of the tablets to avoid stocks running out as demand for the fever medication soars amid the country's seventh wave of coronavirus infections.

    The drug, marketed in Japan as Calonal, is prescribed by medical institutions to treat fever and pain. It's said to have few side effects, and is considered easy on children and pregnant women. However, as the shortage may make Calonal unavailable for those who need it, the health ministry is urging medical institutions and pharmacies not to stockpile the tablets. An expert has pointed out, "Depending on the patient, another drug with similar effects can be substituted."

    A pharmacy in Tokyo's Nerima Ward sold some 2,000 prescribed Calonal tablets in July, far more than the 500 to 600 it sells in the same month in a normal year. Demand exploded starting that month, when new daily coronavirus infection figures spiked. In August, too, the drugstore sold more than 1,000 tablets in the first several days. The pharmacy's manager Taizo Nagata, who is also the chairperson of the Tokyo Pharmaceutical Association, said, "This amount was inconceivable in summer (before the COVID-19 pandemic), when there are no flu outbreaks."

    Calonal is often prescribed for COVID-19 patients. Tokyo-based Ayumi Pharmaceutical Corp. announced on July 29 that it had begun to adjust Calonal shipments, claiming the company had become unable to respond to orders due to recently surging demand.

    Nagata said, "While some pharmacies have run short of stock, some other drugstores, such as ones near fever outpatient clinics, have them." He added that so far there's no need to worry about Calonal completely disappearing from the market because there are several other medications that contain loxoprofen and ibuprofen for fever and pain, including over-the-counter drugs. He is calling for calm response, saying, "We want medical personnel to think of appropriate prescriptions for each patient so that drugs are available for those who need them."

    (Japanese original by Seiho Akimaru, Tokyo City News Department, and Rikka Teramachi, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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