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Drug Shortages Leave Patients Vulnerable

Sometimes a patient visits a doctor, receives a diagnosis and is prescribed treatment – only to discover at the pharmacy counter that their medication is unavailable.  

Lately, this is because of generic drug shortages

Drug shortages are on the rise. 

More than 300 drugs are currently in shortage. The number signifies a sharp rise in just the past two years. FDA data show that the average shortage affects at least half a million consumers, with patients between the ages of 65 and 85 most likely to be impacted. 

Patients who opt for a substitute medication may face additional challenges. These drugs may cost patients more out of pocket and may not be as effective as the original prescription.  

Meanwhile, managing patients’ transition from one medication to another increases health care providers’ workloads, contributing to an estimated $360 million in avoidable labor costs every year. 

Various factors lead to shortages. 

Supply disruptions stem from a number of different causes: 

Natural disasters. Some disruptions are unavoidable, like when a tornado destroys a warehouse.  

Supply chain issues. Active ingredients may be discontinued. Overseas sourcing of ingredients also heightens supply chain vulnerability.  

Lack of drug profitability. If a drug is not profitable, manufacturers may pull it from the market. In some instances, low profitability has led some companies to end production of some essential generic medications, such as chemotherapy and heart drugs.  

This problem isn’t limited to innovative drugs or rare conditions. Well-established treatments, like penicillin and inhalers, which tend to have low profit margins, have also seen supply declines nationwide.  

Regardless of the cause, shortages have the same result: manufacturers struggle to meet patient demand, and patients are left without vital medication.  

Despite the seriousness of the problem, policy responses have been inadequate. Executive Orders 13588 and 14017 have attempted to shore up national drug supplies and reduce shortages. But even with these measures, shortages persist – and grow.  

In a rapidly evolving global environment, policymakers and manufacturers must unite to meet patients’ needs. 

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