Pharmacists cite highest number of drug shortages since 2001

In the first three months of 2024, there were 323 active drug shortages, the highest number since 2001, according to research by the University of Utah Drug Information Service.

The drug shortage data, collected quarterly, is generated from reports from health-care professionals, most of them pharmacists at hospitals and health systems, said Erin Fox, the lead researcher and the Drug Information Service’s director.

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Researchers follow up by contacting drug companies to verify that a shortage exists, and if so, why and how long it’s expected to last, Fox added. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, in turn, publishes the findings on its website, ashp.org.

The Drug Information Service’s definition of a drug shortage is broader than the one used by the Food and Drug Administration, so the Utah shortage numbers are generally larger than the FDA’s. For example, if a drugstore had the adult-strength over-the-counter medicine, but no children’s version of the same drug, the Utah researchers would call that a shortage but the FDA might not, Fox said.

The drugs in short supply include chemotherapy agents, antibiotics, medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and pain medications. There are also shortages of medications used in hospital crash carts, the self-contained mobile units in hospitals used to perform lifesaving interventions during cardiac or respiratory arrest.

The data the Utah researchers collect, usually based on direct contact with drug companies, suggests that problems with manufacturing or supply-chain difficulties are the most commonly cited reason for shortages.

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