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The Health Ministry has issued new rules to enable the health maintenance organizations to expedite the supply of Eltroxin alternatives to thyroid patients experiencing problems with the drug's new formula.

As reported previously in Haaretz, more than 450 Israelis have complained to the ministry of side effects from Eltroxin (Levothyroxine), a synthetic thyroid hormone, since manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline changed the pill's composition earlier this year.

Until now, the only alternative to Eltroxin available in Israel, Merck Serono's Euthyrox, required patients to get special approval by submitting a special form, because the drug is not registered in Israel, resulting in supply delays. The new directive allows general practitioners to prescribe Euthyrox like any registered drug, with the HMOs handling the forms.

In a statement, the Health Ministry said that all four HMOs have been supplied with Euthyrox and were distributing it to their pharmacies. Patients can receive it with a regular prescription, without any need for additional paperwork, at a price similar to that of Eltroxin, the ministry said.

In a separate statement, released after a recent meeting between its director general and senior Israeli endocrinologists, the ministry stressed that the "vast majority" of people treated with the new Eltroxin formula have balanced thyroid levels and experienced no side effects. Any switch to an alternative to Eltroxin must be done under medical supervision, the ministry emphasized.

But dozens of people who say they were harmed by Eltroxin's new formula - which involved only the pill's inactive ingredients - demonstrated yesterday outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem to protest the Health Ministry's "negligence" toward them.

"The state is poisoning us. The ministry promised we'd all get alternatives, but in practice, no one is," said Sharon Galili, who created a Facebook group for "victims of Eltroxin."

"They shove us from one place to another and are dismissive of reports about side effects," Galili continued. "Are we all living in la-la land?"

Galili, who is nine months pregnant, said the patients are demanding "fair and appropriate alternatives for all of us, even if they cost more."

A committee headed by Dr. Tamar Elram of the Health Ministry was recently set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the introduction of the revised Eltroxin. The drug's formula was changed in February, but only in August were warning labels affixed to its packaging by the manufacturer, on order of the ministry.

An estimated 200,000 Israelis, most of them women, take Eltroxin. It is used to treat hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid ), or to replace the function of the thyroid gland after its removal.