Drug Shortage Hits Highest Number Since 2001

Jun 14, 2024 at 01:00 pm by Matt

The current drug shortage has reached its highest number since 2001, significantly impacting patients, hospitals, and pharmacies. Economic factors are a major contributor to these shortages.

Christina Shreeve, whose son has been living with Crohn’s disease for nearly six years, understands the severity of drug shortages. "When we got that diagnosis, it was terrifying and life-changing," said Shreeve, a member of Angels for Change. Recently, one of her son’s monthly IV medications became scarce. "It’s very frustrating because it’s difficult to reach remission with this disease. Once you find that magic combination, you want to stick with it as long as possible," she explained.

Shreeve's family is not alone. The University of Utah Drug Information Service reports that there were 323 drug shortages in the first quarter of 2024, the highest number since 2001. These shortages include essential medications like chemotherapy drugs, painkillers, and other critical treatments used in pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals.

“Some of those products are extremely critical, such as those on crash carts or code blue carts, where time is of the essence,” said Erin Fox, lead researcher for the Drug Information Service at the University of Utah. Fox noted that their definition of drug shortages is broader than that of the FDA, leading to a more extensive list.

Fox explained, “We also consider how clinicians and health systems actually use these products and the challenges they face when specific strengths or formulations are unavailable, which the FDA may not always account for.”

Economic And Quality Factors Behind Drug Shortages

Researchers indicate that economic factors significantly contribute to drug shortages. Dr. Michael Ganio of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists highlighted that transparency in drug quality is also a key issue. "When we buy a product, we often choose the cheapest option without knowing the robustness of the supply chain or the quality investments in manufacturing," he said.

Andrew Powaleny, Senior Director of Public Affairs at PhRMA, emphasized the need for a holistic approach to tackle drug shortages. He stated, "Given that most prescription drug shortages are generic, lawmakers should prioritize policies that encourage infrastructure investments to increase supply chain resiliency."

Dr. Ganio warned that prolonged drug shortages could severely impact the healthcare system. “These shortages change how we care for patients, requiring more time to manage, find alternatives, and prepare drugs differently,” he explained.

In response, Medicare proposed incentives for small hospitals to maintain a six-month buffer of essential medications, aiming to mitigate the impact of ongoing drug shortages.

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