Drug shortages aren’t new. The tripledemic just made you look.
By Maryn McKenna
Flu meds and prescription drugs have been in short supply all winter—but the problem goes back over a decade. Parents of small children have faced a persistent problem this “tripledemic” winter: They’ve headed out to pharmacies and supermarkets, looking for cold drugs and fever reducers to counter Covid, flu and RSV, and discovered the shelves were bare. And it hasn’t just been over-the-counter drugs in short supply: The antibiotic amoxicillin, used to treat strep throat and scarlet fever, is scarce in the US and the UK. What’s been worse: Discovering this isn’t a one-time interruption that might resolve quickly—with luck, while your child could still benefit. According to records at the US Food and Drug Administration, amoxicillin supplies have been low since the end of October, and pharmacy experts say colleagues were struggling with stock-outs from the beginning of that month. And it's not just treatments for seasonal infections that are out of stock. According to the FDA, 191 drugs—antibiotics, cancer treatments, anesthetics, Adderall, and other pharmaceuticals—are currently in shortage or in the process of being restored to the market. This isn’t a Covid-caused, temporary aberration. Experts have been ringing the alarm since at least 2011. Put another way: The US drives drug innovation for the rest of the world, but it can’t keep what it develops on pharmacy shelves. It’s a stubborn problem—composed of procurement slowdowns, proprietary information, and policy shortfalls—that no one has been able to fix. Coping with drug shortages is such a regular occurrence that “it's almost its own subspecialty in pharmacy now,” says Susan Davis, who is an associate dean for pharmacy at Wayne State University. “It’s something that people have as part of their job description, trying to manage shortages, which is unfathomable.”
January 11, 2023