Drug Shortages in U.S. Have Tripled in 5 Years

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Most acute shortage: IV fluid (AP photo)

Despite having a multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry, the United States has continued to struggle with a chronic shortage of important drugs that patients need.


The result has been a tripling in the number of annual drug shortages over the past five years.


In 2007, the number of drugs in short supply was 154.


That total soared to 456 by 2012, according to a new report (pdf) from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).


The most common drugs in short supply are generic versions of sterile injectable drugs, while the most acute shortage involves basic IV fluids, according to Erin Fox, a drug expert at the University of Utah who supplied data for use in the study.


“We are at a public health crisis when we don’t have the medicines to treat acutely ill patients and we don’t have the basics like intravenous fluids,” Fox told The New York Times.


Representative Joe Pitts (R-Pennsylvania), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, said it was “unacceptable” for the drug shortage to increase year after year, and pointed some of the blame at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


“Numerous drugs have remained on FDA’s shortage list for some time. What is the agency doing to help address these situations? Recent news reports have highlighted shortages of oncology products, parenteral nutrition products, and even common, yet critically important saline solutions. Such shortages lead to delays in treatments, rationing of care, and higher costs. They can also pose greater risk to patients in the form of medication errors and as providers are forced to seek alternative treatments,” Pitts said in a prepared statement.


FDA officials responded by saying the agency is doing more to prevent the drug shortage total from going even higher than it has.


The GAO provided information that supported the FDA assertion, saying the agency headed off 154 potential shortages in 2012 compared with just 35 in 2010.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Drug Shortages Continue to Vex Doctors (by Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times)

Health Subcommittee Reviews Ongoing Threat of Drug Shortages, What FDA Can Do (Energy & Commerce Committee)

Drug Shortages: Public Health Threat Continues, Despite Efforts to Help Ensure Product Availability (U.S. Government Accountability Office) (pdf)

Current Drug Shortages Index (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

Drug Shortages Spreading in U.S., Endangering Cancer, Heart Attack, Leukemia Patients (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)            


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