USA

Pandemic causing 'unacceptable' shortages in US drug supplies, report says

The report says shortages have limited 29 of 40 drugs critical for treating Covid-19 patients, including propofol, albuterol, midazolam, hydroxychloroquine, fentanyl, azithromycin and morphine, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The FDA, which has more stringent criteria for shortages, show 18 of 40 are on the Drug Shortage list.

Another 67 out of 156 critical acute drugs -- including diazepam, phenobarbital, lidocaine and acetaminophen -- are in short supply, the report said.

"Drug shortages can be a matter of life and death, and some shortages mean that a life-saving drug is not available to U.S. patients at any price," the authors wrote.

"The urgency with the drug shortage supply issue is related directly to the major increase in COVID-19 cases that we will experience in the coming months," Michael Osterholm, the director of CIDRAP, said in a news release.

"This, in turn, will dramatically increase the need for specific COVID-19 treatment drugs, while at the same, COVID-19 is having a major impact on two of the three key drug manufacturing areas of the world, India and Italy," Osterholm added.

The pandemic has "jolted the global pharmaceutical market at all levels and production points" and exacerbated a problem that dates back several decades, researchers said.

Closed factories, shipping delays or shutdowns and trade limitations or export bans have severely impacted the supply side of the chain, the analysis concluded, while the pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in the global demand for Covid-19 therapies.

The drug shortage problem in the US isn't new and remain a "perennial problem," the authors wrote.

There's been more than 250 drug shortages over the past few years, the study said, "many for critical medications, including both acute drugs for treating emergency situations and chronic drugs for managing serious long-term conditions."

The shortages have been tracked in the US since 2001, but in two decades, there's been no significant improvement, according to CIDRAP.

"What makes the drug shortage such a challenging crisis is that no one organization or agency oversees this situation and responds accordingly, not even the FDA," Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, the director of the PRIME Institute at the University of Minnesota and co-lead report investiagtor, said in a statement.

"And no one area of the country is specifically hit with this problem as drugs will be allocated to those areas most in need, that is until everyone is in shortage status. Then we will have a national crisis."

The report also suggests recommendations for combating drug shortages, including creating a new federal entity to track, analyze, predict, prevent and mitigate drug shortages.

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