Lithium Nationalization Could Lead to Medical Lithium Shortage
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Lithium Nationalization Could Lead to Medical Lithium Shortage

Photo by:   Christine Shandu
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Fernando Mares By Fernando Mares | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Fri, 02/10/2023 - 17:54

The recent lithium nationalization and the launch of the Sonora Plan have put lithium and its potential for energy storage at the center of the public debate. However, the pharmaceutical sector is worried that lithium nationalization is diminishing the supply of lithium carbonate, a raw material used to treat mental illnesses. 

According to Oscar Zavala, President, the National Interdisciplinary Union of Pharmacies and Clinics (UNIFACC), drugstores have experienced a lack of supply of Carbolit, a drug used to treat patients with bipolarity, psychosis and other mental illnesses following the nationalization. Zavala stated that the lack of this drug is caused by the restrictions on import materials used for the fabrication of lithium-based medicines. “Lithium shortage affects a great part of the Mexican population that needs the medicine,” he added.

Zavala noted that the shortage of lithium carbonate started in 2021. Starting in 2022, neither Carbolit nor its generic version was available in Mexican drugstores. “We had the option of acquiring the drug via its generic version but due to the lack of supplies for its production it is impossible to manufacture it in Mexico,” Zavala said. 

Zavala added another factor that impedes Mexico to produce the medicine: the lack of appropriate infrastructure. Mexican laboratories do not have the technology to process lithium carbonate, which requires special treatment. “We cannot directly consume lithium once it is extracted because it is toxic and nephrotoxic; it damages the liver and kidneys. Even if we had a lithium mine, the metal is not suitable for human consumption,” Zavala added. 

Zavala stressed that patients undergoing lithium carbonate treatment will be forced to buy it in the US. 

According to the Ministry of Economy (SE), Mexico imported 195t of lithium in 2018 with a total value of US$3.8 million, which represented an increase of 41% when compared to 2017’s imports. SE highlighted that 78% of the imported lithium came from Chile, 21% from Slovenia and 1% from the US. 

While the pharmaceutical sector is negatively impacted by the state’s lithium control, other sectors like the automotive industry believe it could be beneficial. If lithium battery manufacturing is assured, this could boost the manufacturing of electric vehicles and energy storage at clean power plants like the Puerto Peñasco solar plant in Sonora.

Photo by:   Christine Shandu

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