How Big of a Problem are Drug Shortages?

December 2, 2019

Drug shortages are a rapidly increasing problem for the healthcare industry. Over 99% of health care organizations have been hurt by drug shortages in recent years, with 126 new shortages already recorded for 2019. These lead to delays in medical procedures, increased costs from expensive drug alternatives, and a higher chance for medication/dosing errors.
While the rate of new shortages is slowing down from its peak around 2011, the problem is that long-term active and ongoing shortages are not resolving. A 2018 analysis done by the FDA determined that the number of ongoing shortages is in fact increasing. This is happening as drug shortages are lasting longer and longer, in some cases more than 8 years.
These shortages are especially an issue with generic drugs. According to a recent study, more than 80% of drugs that are experiencing shortages are from a generic brand. Further research suggests around 40% of the shortages are from injectables. Other drugs that face the brunt of this epidemic include:

  • CNS medication
  • Antimicrobials
  • Electrolytes
  •  Chemotherapy medication
  • Older drugs

Beyond health care organizations taking dips in profit, shortages can worsen patients’ health outcomes by causing delays or changes in their treatment. Over 55% of hospitals report that they changed or delayed therapy due to drug shortages, while over 36% rescheduled procedures. What’s even worse is that these setbacks often impact the most vulnerable patients. For example, while 90% of children with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are estimated to be curable, the drugs used to treat them are typically older drugs, making them vulnerable to shortages.
Since the majority of health care practitioners believe there is a lack of information on the cause of a shortage, there is definitely more work that can be done to solve this issue. Drug shortages will only continue to get worse until the root of the problem is solved.