What Is Behind America’s Secret Drug Shortage?

(NewsSpace.com) – Millions of Americans rely on prescriptions to treat various medical conditions from temporary afflictions to permanent illnesses. Shortages can prevent people from getting the treatment they need, and in some cases, it can be lethal without a comparable solution available. Yet, that’s exactly what the United States is facing — a worrisome drug shortage — and reports say it won’t be getting better anytime soon.

National Drug Shortages

National drug shortages occur for a variety of reasons. Some of these include issues at manufacturing facilities, failures of quality control, discontinuations, and higher-than-normal demands. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stays on top of these shortages and works with the manufacturers to help mitigate negative impacts.

According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, there are currently 243 listed shortages as of the time of writing, though per a Newsweek report, the University of Utah Drug Information Services estimates real figures might be as high as 309.

One of the main shortages happening right now, due to one drug being used as part of a weight-loss trend, is Ozempic, a medication used to treat Type 2 diabetes. The scarcity of the drug has led to black market purchases, some of which are counterfeit. Some of the counterfeit drugs ended up in a retail pharmacy where they were issued to patients. Others include Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD, and other mental health medications on the same spectrum.

Chemotherapy drugs are also apparently suffering shortages, which is particularly worrisome because there are no real alternatives to the oft-life-saving cancer treatment. In the case of these — carboplatin, cisplatin, and methotrexate — a quality issue at a manufacturing plant is to blame. Other pharmaceutical companies just simply couldn’t prepare to meet the demand as quickly as it was needed.

It’s Not Just Brand Names

In the absence of name brands, there are usually generic medications that can fill the slot. However, when there are shortages in these alternatives, and hospital systems have to train staff on how to use them, it can have significant effects.

Erin Fox, a University of Utah associate chief pharmacy officer, blames a lack of transparency in the pharmaceutical world. She pointed to the many secrets companies are allowed to harbor, including companies producing the drugs, the list of medications produced, where the raw materials come from, total overall production of a drug, sales, and market shares.

Marta Wosinska, a health economist at the Brookings Institution, has put forth a proposal to help ensure these crises don’t continue to occur. It includes providing support for manufacturing upgrades, which will result in increased quality, giving purchasers increased access to non-public FDA data on generic drugs, and creating a safety net stockpile of the most sought-after and used drugs.

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