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The Rising Concern of Drug Shortages

March 8, 2024
Reading Time: 4 min.
Drug Shortages Mean Accuracy & Efficiency Is Key
pharmacist handling medication

Kevin Stalder | 7 March, 2024

Drug Shortages: A Growing Concern

Drug shortages have become an increasingly larger cause of concern over the last few years, steadily amplifying the economic impact and burden they bring along with it. As a result, healthcare institutions are looking into ways to remain flexible in their workflow – whether that be altering the quantities ordered, revisiting their labor costs, or better inventory management practices.

Impact of Drug Shortages on Costs and Patient Care

In 2022, the FDA reported there were 49 new drug shortages in the US, bringing the running total to over 90 that were ongoing at the time of the study. The cost of these shortages has been estimated to exceed $350 million in extra labor costs, attributed to factors such as operational and drug shortage management diverting time and resources away from clinical patient care. A survey by the ASHP in 2023 found that 99% of surveyed pharmacies were experiencing drug shortages, with 32% considered critically impactful and 63% moderately impactful.

Factors Leading to Drug Shortages

Drug shortages can be caused by various factors, including difficulties in acquiring raw materials, manufacturing problems, regulatory issues, business decisions, disturbances within the supply chain, and inventory practices. These factors contribute to disruptions in the availability of medications, impacting patients and healthcare providers.

Impact of COVID-19 on Drug Supply Chain

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a major disruption in the global pharmaceutical supply chain. Stockpiling of drugs occurred as purchasers sought to mitigate uncertainties surrounding the supply chain's return to normal. With only 10% of active pharmaceutical ingredients made domestically in the US, dependence on foreign manufacturers increased vulnerability 

pharmacist scanning medication container

Physical Destruction and Natural Disasters

Some drug shortages result from physical destruction of supplies and facilities due to natural disasters. Examples include a tornado in North Carolina destroying a Pfizer plant and Hurricane Maria affecting Baxter's production site in Puerto Rico. These events can have a lasting impact on the availability of essential medications.

Impact on Patient Care and FDA Recommendations

Drug shortages can directly affect patient care and outcomes. The FDA has been monitoring and evaluating these shortages, providing recommendations to address root causes. Their top three recommendations include creating a shared understanding of the impact of drug shortages, implementing a rating system for drug manufacturers, and promoting sustainable sector contracts.

Mitigating Drug Shortages

While it's impossible to prevent all shortages, understanding why they occur and taking proper measures and precautions is crucial. Recommendations include greater transparency in the pharmaceutical industry, improved data sharing, implementing a rating system for manufacturers, and promoting sustainable contracts to ensure a more reliable drug supply.

Within a health system, pharmacy automation technology can help manage drug shortages by remediating costs incurred by less efficient pharmacy storage, picking, tracking, and distribution methods. Pharmacy automation technology also drastically reduces the chance of medication error and better manages inventory – letting pharmacy managers make a financially and operationally viable plan moving ahead.