The US Faces a Health Crisis Due to Record-High Drug Shortages

by Wall Street Rebel - Michael London | 05/17/2023 9:54 AM
The US Faces a Health Crisis Due to Record-High Drug Shortages

The persistent issue of drug shortages in the United States is a clear sign of healthcare rationing. This has a significant impact on healthcare providers and patients on a daily basis. Currently, the stakeholders and the FDA are collaborating to identify practical solutions. 


Since the latter part of 2009, there has been a noticeable rise in the frequency of critical shortages. A medication shortage often affects numerous drug categories, including anesthetics, antibiotics, analgesics, nutritional and electrolyte supplements, and chemotherapeutic agents. The lack of availability of medications can have significant economic and clinical consequences. The shortage of pharmaceuticals throughout the United States is expected to result in annual economic losses of hundreds of millions of dollars for the country's various healthcare institutions.

There are various reasons why drug shortages happen. Due to the limited number of manufacturers producing generic injectable drugs and their full capacity, these drugs are highly vulnerable to shortages. Furthermore, certain manufacturers have encountered issues with their production process, creating defective products. While several suppliers strive to enhance their facilities and incorporate more manufacturing lines, these endeavors require considerable time.

Record levels of drug shortages in the United States are causing delays in the provision of treatments for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, affecting thousands of patients.

The United States is currently facing a shortage of numerous drugs due to challenges in the supply chain, quality control, and financial constraints. These issues have resulted in manufacturing shutdowns, causing officials to confront a complex and opaque situation.

The severe scarcities have captured the focus of the executive and legislative branches of the United States government, who scrutinize the fundamental factors contributing to the declining state of the non-branded pharmaceutical industry, responsible for approximately 90% of prescriptions in the country.

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The current administration under President Biden has formed a group of experts to explore sustainable measures for strengthening the pharmaceutical supply chain. This comes as the United States depends heavily on medications and drug components sourced from China and India. In recent weeks, various stakeholders, including generic drug manufacturers, supply chain specialists, and patient advocates, have presented their perspectives to legislators regarding the issues at hand.

The insufficiency of non-branded chemotherapy medications for treating lung, breast, bladder, and ovarian cancers has exacerbated apprehensions.

Dr. Amanda Fader, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a president-elect of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, has expressed her opinion that the current situation constitutes a public health emergency. This is due to the wide range of individuals affected and the current scarcity of chemotherapy agents.

The American Cancer Society issued a warning last week, indicating that the shortages could potentially lead to unfavorable patient outcomes due to resulting delays.

According to James McKinney, a Food and Drug Administration spokesperson, the White House team responsible for addressing the persistent drug supply chain disruptions comprises officials from the national security, economic, and health sectors.

Authorities have been engaged in discussions regarding potential strategies such as offering tax incentives to manufacturers of generic drugs and enhancing transparency concerning the quality of such drugs. Presently, the incentives in place are advantageous to pharmaceutical companies that offer the lowest prices, even those that may compromise on quality, thereby increasing the likelihood of plant closures in the event of corrective measures being demanded by the FDA Certain shortages, such as those pertaining to weight-loss medications, can be attributed to overwhelming demand. In contrast, others may be the result of excessive prescribing practices, such as with antibiotics, or insufficient investment in potential substitutes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a dedicated team of approximately ten individuals responsible for managing and communicating drug shortages. The FDA has expressed its intention to request additional information from Congress regarding drug manufacturing and supply chain to enhance its regulatory capabilities.

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However, the agency has conveyed its apprehensions to the White House regarding the significant financial burden the generic drug industry faces. This economic issue falls outside the purview of the FDA officials, who have stated that they are not equipped to tackle it.

During recent appearances before Congress, Dr. Robert Califf, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, emphasized the agency's stance that there are limits to the number of issues they can address.

During a House panel on May 11, Dr. Califf emphasized the need to address the fundamental economic issues to resolve the current situation.

During an April meeting, David Gaugh, the interim CEO of the Association for Accessible Medicines, which represents generic drug manufacturers, cautioned FDA officials that the bankruptcy and subsequent closure of Akorn Pharmaceuticals could potentially be a precursor to similar events in the industry.

The occurrence of shortages is increasing. It is probable that the situation will deteriorate in the near future, rather than improve. "We have all witnessed that," stated Mr. Gaugh during an interview.

Mr. Gaugh highlighted the challenges faced by the generic pharmaceutical industry with reference to relevant data. As per the findings of a review carried out by IQVIA, a healthcare analytics enterprise, the market for generic drugs has witnessed consolidation despite an increase in the number of manufacturers. The review reveals that nearly 90% of generic drug purchases are made by three major buyers. The intermediaries consist of prominent drug distributors and retail chains, such as Red Oak Sourcing, which encompasses CVS Health and Cardinal Health, and ClarusONE, which includes Walmart and McKesson. Furthermore, Walgreens has forged distribution partnerships with AmerisourceBergen.

The process of securing contracts with intermediaries entails a comparative analysis of American manufacturers vis-à-vis their Indian counterparts, who enjoy a distinct advantage owing to their considerably lower labor expenses. In situations where a manufacturer of generic drugs fails to obtain a contract for a specific medication, it may discontinue the production of that medication, which could lead to a decline in profits that were already modest.

As per Mr. Gaugh's statement, the scope for inaccuracies is notably reduced for manufacturers of generic products.

The abrupt shutdown of Akorn in February came as a surprise to hospital pharmacists and supply-chain professionals. Akorn's products were recalled due to a lack of personnel available to address potential quality concerns.

Eric Tichy, the board chairman of the End Drug Shortages Alliance and the supply chain division chair at the Mayo Clinic, stated that the action above had worsened an already unfavorable situation.

Akorn manufactured around 100 pharmaceutical products, including albuterol inhalation solution vials that were commonly used by pediatric medical facilities to alleviate respiratory distress in children. As per Dr. Tichy, the company mentioned earlier was the exclusive manufacturer of an antidote for lead poisoning.

Dr. Tichy asserts that the fundamental aspect of health is crucial for the optimal functioning of our country. As a result, a domestic producer may be at risk of bankruptcy without substantial intervention.

A collection of Senate bills, which have received bipartisan support, seek to accelerate the accessibility of generic drugs by addressing regulatory gaps or strategies that cause delays. During a House hearing on shortages held on Thursday, Anthony Sardella, a business research advisor associated with Washington University in St. Louis, stated that the prices of generic drugs have declined by around 50% since 2016.

Intas Pharmaceuticals is an Indian pharmaceutical company that produces three essential chemotherapy drugs: methotrexate, carboplatin, and cisplatin. Mr. Dwars necessitated these medications. These drugs are currently in short supply in the market, making Intas Pharmaceuticals a notable example. Intas temporarily suspended drug manufacturing operations due to significant quality-control violations discovered by the FDA.

According to the report published in December, the Food and Drug Administration inspectors discovered a significant quantity of plastic bags containing multiple torn and shredded documents during their unannounced inspection of the Intas plant. As per the report, a member of the quality-control team discarded defective records by utilizing acid to degrade them and then disposing of them in a waste bin.

As per the report, the inspectors from the FDA were able to reconstruct documents and uncover quality control records related to products meant for export to the United States. The agency has identified several supplementary concerns.

To address the supply disruption's impact, Accord Pharmaceuticals, the U.S. distributor for Intas, has reported that a restricted number of lots underwent third-party testing, certification, and subsequent release into the U.S. market. Ms. Bray was responsible for organizing various treatments that were made available to patients in Iowa.

Accord has issued a statement indicating they are working with the FDA to resume production for their American customers. According to the statement, the act of shredding was determined to be an isolated incident.

In recent weeks, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology conducted a nationwide survey. In response, medical professionals from 35 states have reported a shortage or complete unavailability of crucial chemotherapy medications, including in well-known cancer centers and educational institutions.

Dr. Patrick Timmins, a partner at Women's Cancer Care Associates in Albany, New York, reports that their medical practice encountered a shortage of specific chemotherapy medications on May 9th. Nonetheless, there remain 25 patients who are in need of these medications.

According to Dr. Timmins, the patients are currently in a state of conflict, and the medical team is working to disarm them. The failure to develop a timely patient treatment plan and address ongoing issues is considered highly unacceptable.

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In a late April meeting with White House staff members, Ms. Bray suggested the creation of an exchange to streamline the distribution of drugs to areas with the highest demand. Additionally, she proposed increasing the production of small-batch medicines, also referred to as compounding.

Dr. Kevin Schulman, a distinguished professor at Stanford Medicine and an expert in the generic drug industry, has recommended that the White House team investigate the level of influence that intermediary firms wield in their interactions with generic drug manufacturers. As per his statement, drug intermediaries are not held accountable during shortages, despite their insistence on obtaining drugs at significantly reduced prices.


                      What's driving U.S. drug shortages and how to fix them

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