Drug shortages are increasing at an alarming rate. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of drug shortages per year leapt from 61 to 178. This year’s total, 220 as of October, already surpasses that of last year. Fortunately, FDA has taken a step that is intended to prevent drug shortages from becoming crises.
Last Thursday, FDA issued an interim final rule requiring manufacturers that are the only producer of certain drug products to report all manufacturing interruptions to the agency. Early notification will help FDA work with drug manufacturers and doctors to make sure that patients have access to life-supporting products. The interim rule was spurred by President Obama’s Oct. 31, 2011, executive order, which directed FDA to reduce and prevent drug shortages.
But the agency is not relying on just one tactic. In addition to the interim final rule, FDA is developing a tracking database to monitor drug shortages. The database will record the numbers of shortages, the reasons for shortages, and what steps FDA is taking to address and prevent them. The database is a high priority for the agency, which hopes to complete it in 2012.
Also, several observers have expressed concern that unscrupulous organizations could attempt to reap large profits from drug shortages. In response, FDA has begun analyzing reports about drug stockpiling and exorbitant pricing. The agency plans to provide the Department of Justice with information about these reported activities, and the Department will determine whether they are consistent with the law. This issue is on Congress’s radar, too: Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) recently introduced a bill to make price gouging on scarce drugs a federal crime.
As any supply-chain professional knows, having one source of a crucial item is far from an ideal situation. If a drug is crucial but not profitable, we may not see new sources spring up to provide additional supply-chain security. But FDA’s initiatives promise to ease the threat of drug shortages and reduce patients’ suffering.