Matt Bush, FISM News
If you go to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) website, you will find a list of over 150 drugs that are either in a current shortage or have been in a shortage that was resolved some time over the past six months. Although there are various factors that contribute to prescription drug shortages, most experts point to “supply chain issues” as the major cause for concern right now.
While drug shortages are not a new thing, the rising number of prescription drugs that are difficult to find, the circumstances presented by COVID, and the fact that fewer and fewer people want to work make this a more urgent problem.
The pharmaceutical supply chain is complicated. An article from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) describes multiple aspects of the supply chain that could cause drug shortages, including but not limited to:
- Manufacturing difficulties, including staffing issues and a shift from manufacturing to research and development.
- Shortages of raw materials, including shortages from other countries.
- Voluntary recalls
- Natural disasters anywhere in the world that could affect manufacturing or raw materials.
- Supply and demand issues, like when one particular vaccine takes the majority of a company’s time and resources.
In addition to that, the global pandemic has greatly affected the pharmaceutical supply chain as well. Large companies, like Pfizer, have spent time and resources on the vaccine. A smaller workforce has created transport and manufacturing issues, and the uncertainty and extra workload for pharmacists and doctors has affected hospitals and pharmacies.
The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), in a November survey, found that the majority of independent pharmacy owners and managers are struggling to fill staff positions and deal with supply chain disruptions, in addition to market pressures. According to Fox Business, 60% of pharmacies reported supply chain disruptions, 70% struggled to fill staff positions, and 64% were worried about inflation and how the economy would affect their business. Only 31% of pharmacy owners described their overall financial health and business as “good” or “somewhat good.”
President Biden, speaking to reporters, said that “for the vast majority of the country” store shelves will not be empty due to actions his administration has taken in partnership with business and labor, retailers, grocery stores and freight movers and railroads. He cited actions taken by his administration to clear ports and give extra flexibility to truckers as something that would “help move goods more quickly and get products that people want onto store shelves all across the country.”
The American Medical Association felt differently. According to CBS News, “The American Medical Association is calling the shortage an ‘urgent public health crisis’ that ‘threatens patient care and safety.'” The same article also states, “According to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, three of the top five shortages are drugs used for chemotherapy, heart conditions and antibiotics.”
While the phrase “supply chain issues” is something that many Americans have grown accustomed to, when it comes to prescription drugs that keep people healthy and save people’s lives that phrase has a deeper meaning. Despite President Biden’s optimism in saying we are in “very strong shape” heading into the holidays, there is real cause for concern as drug shortages continue to happen at a quicker pace.