First came the warnings, in messages among friends and families and on social media, to stock up on vital drugs in Russia before supplies were affected by crippling Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
Then, some drugs indeed became harder to find at pharmacies in Moscow and other cities.
“Not a single pharmacy in the city has it now,” a resident of Kazan told The Associated Press in late March about a blood thinner her father needs.
Vrachi.Rf, one of Russia’s biggest online communities for medical workers, surveyed more than 3,000 doctors in mid-March, and they said they had run into shortages of more than 80 medications: anti-inflammatory, gastrointestinal, antiepileptic and anticonvulsant drugs, as well as antidepressants and antipsychotics.
About a dozen people contacted by the AP in different cities in late March said they had spent days searching for certain thyroid medications, types of insulin or even a popular pain-relieving syrup for children. Some said they were unable to find them at all.
“Patients I treat have lost some blood pressure medications,” Erlikh said. “And some doctors I know are reporting problems with certain very expensive, very important medications (used in) certain surgical procedures.”
Experts and health authorities in Russia say the drug shortages are temporary — due to panic- buying and logistical difficulties for suppliers from the sanctions — but some remain worried that high-quality medicines will keep disappearing in the Russian market.
“Most likely there will be shortages. How catastrophic it will be, I don’t know,” said Dr. Alexey Erlikh, head of the cardiac intensive care unit in Moscow Hospital No. 29, and a professor at the Moscow-based Pirogov Medical University.
Reports that Russians could not find certain medications in pharmacies started surfacing in early March, shortly after Moscow unleashed a war on Ukraine, and sweeping sanctions left Russia increasingly isolated from the rest of the world.
Patient’s Monitor, a patients’ rights group in the Russian region of Dagestan on the Caspian Sea, began getting complaints in the second week of March.
Ziyautdin Uvaysov, head of the group, told AP he personally checked with several state-run pharmacies in the region on the availability of 10 most-wanted medications and “they didn’t have a large number of these.”
Uvaysov added that when he asked about when supplies would be restocked, the pharmacies replied that “there aren’t any and it’s unclear when there will be.”
Despite assurances from authorities that hoarding of supplies was to blame for the quickly emptying shelves, reports about shortages persisted throughout March.