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  • Writer's pictureLolita Chowdhury

Drug Shortages Strike the U.S. in the Wake of the Pandemic


As the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chains still struggle to meet the ever-increasing demand for essential medications (Christina Victoria Craft, Unsplash).


The U.S. has witnessed a nationwide shortage of nearly 300 medical drugs in the last few months. This phenomenon has been attributed to recent demand spikes, manufacturing issues, and decreased ingredient supplies.


What Is The Recent History of Drug Shortages?


Drug shortages, especially of generic medications, have been a persistent and long-standing issue. Over time, the pharmaceutical industry has become more united, leading to situations where certain manufacturers lack the motivation to address shortages. Furthermore, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in severe drug shortages as global supply chains faced disruptions and the demand for specific medications surged. Critical drugs like sedatives, painkillers, and antivirals specifically experienced shortages due to the rise in hospitalizations and the heightened need for treatment.


According to the University of Utah Drug Information Service, there were 301 ongoing national drug shortages during the first quarter of this year, 49 percent higher than the number of drug shortages five years ago. For example, there was a spike in respiratory illnesses last year in the U.S., which forced drugstore chains to limit the amount of fever-reducing medicines available to the general public. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also been monitoring a recent shortage of Ozempic, a medication primarily used for diabetes treatment but also prescribed by doctors for weight loss.


Still, most patients do not feel the impact of these drug shortages because doctors are often able to substitute medications or other parts of the drug supply system to hide the issue.


What Causes Drug Shortages to Develop?


The primary causes of most drug shortages are demand surges and pricing. For example, the shortage of Adderall (a medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - ADHD) has been linked to increased usage among young adults. After the pandemic, regulators allowed doctors to prescribe drugs without seeing patients first, further instigating shortages in essential medications.


However, the supply side of the drug industry also plays a significant role in these shortages. Because federal regulators limit the number of suppliers for each drug, pharmaceutical companies often cannot keep up with sharp increases in demand. Further, inexpensive generic drugs often generate minimal profits, disincentivizing the industry from producing more.


Experts find it difficult to predict when shortages may be resolved because drug manufacturers find it difficult to predict demand. Additionally, global supply chain issues in China and India, where the U.S. extracts raw materials for medicine, continue to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, until the shortages are addressed, many people will be forced to live without essential medication.


 


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