Drug Shortages

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Drug Shortages

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By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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You many have seen this update on the news or maybe experienced the phenomenon in your own facility — drug shortages are getting worse. Whereas in 2006 there were reports of only 70 drugs being in short supply, recently the list has grown to about 170 medications and more are added each month.

Taking Stock

Why? Along with recalls, production problems, and a limited capacity to produce certain drugs, there is also the decision by manufacturers to discontinue certain medications.

What kinds of drugs are in short supply? Right now they include Pepcid, many chemotherapeutic drugs for cancer like Doxil and multiple antibiotics. Quite ordinary products like pain medications and nutritional products are also involved — acetaminophen suppositories have been on the list since July.

Most of the shortages involve generic drugs, which have a low profit margin and do not provide the manufacturer with an incentive to resume production once an interruption occurs. Stockpiling is also a problem.

Advice from the FDA

For some drugs there is a substitute, for others there is not. For the most up-to-date information go to the website of the United States Food and Drug Administration at www.fda.gov or the American Society of Health System Pharmacists at by clicking here.       

Manufacturers are not required to report shortages nor the reasons for them but the FDA encourages reporting of all difficulties in obtaining needed medications. Often reports from health professionals are the first notification the agency receives.

The FDA also warns against obtaining drugs from unconventional sources as these can be the source of price gouging, corrupt or fake drugs, and drugs stored under improper conditions.  


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WHY ARE GENERICS CHEAPER? Because the company that invents the drug is protected by a patent for 10 to 20 years that allows them market it exclusively. The company keeps the price high in part to recoup its research and development costs. After the patent expires, the drug can be reproduced by other companies as a generic rather than a “brand name” drug. There is only the cost of manufacture and distribution — no R&D — so the cost to produce generics is lower.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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