PLoS One 16 (8) e0253944 [2021-08-13; online 2021-08-13]
On February 26th 2020, a high alert was issued in Sweden in response to the diagnosis of the first few coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the country. Subsequently, a decreased supply of essential goods, including medical products, was anticipated. We aimed to explore the weekly patterns of prescription dispensing and over-the-counter (OTC) medication sales in Sweden in 2020 compared with previous years, to assess the influence of the government restrictions on medication sales, and to assess whether there is evidence of medication stockpiling in the population. Aggregated data on the weekly volume of defined daily doses (DDDs) of prescription medication dispensed and OTC sales from 2015 to 2020 were examined. From 2015-2019 data, the predicted weekly volume of DDDs for 2020 was estimated and compared to the observed volume for each ATC anatomical main group and therapeutic subgroup. From mid-February to mid-March 2020, there were increases in the weekly volumes of dispensed medication, peaking in the second week of March with a 46% increase in the observed versus predicted number of DDDs dispensed (16,440 vs 11,260 DDDs per 1000 inhabitants). A similar pattern was found in all age groups, in both sexes, and across metropolitan and non-metropolitan regions. In the same week in March, there was a 96% increase in the volume of OTC sold (2,504 vs 1,277 DDDs per 1000 inhabitants), specifically in ATC therapeutic subgroups including vitamins, antipyretics, painkillers, and nasal, throat, cough and cold preparations. Beginning in mid-February 2020, there were significant changes in the volume of prescription medication dispensed and OTC drugs sold. The weekly volume of DDDs quickly decreased following recommendations from public authorities. Overall, our findings suggest stockpiling behavior over a surge in new users of medication.