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How Drug Shortages Challenge U.S. Hospitals

March 22, 2023

U.S. drug shortages increased nearly 30 percent from 2021 to 2022, creating challenges across the health care system, according to a new federal report released today.

In addition to releasing the report, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted a hearing today focused on the ways drug shortages affect hospitals, patients, and health care. The hearing included a call to action to address the “never-ending game of drug-shortage whack-a-mole” that hurts patient care and creates headaches for staff.

Federal lawmakers also noted shortages during the past “tri-demic” winter, as over-the-counter cold medicines and other pain-relievers were in short supply.

“These shortages have cascading effects on patient care, causing delays in treatment, increasing the risk of medication errors, and requiring the use of less effective alternative treatments,” the report notes. “Hospitals have also experienced increased costs, medication waste, and limited staffing capacity to address and remedy shortages.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • At a glance:  There were 295 active drug shortages by the end of 2022, a five-year high, and 15 critical drug products have been in shortage for more than a decade.
  • In short supply:  Recent shortages have affected sterile injectable products (saline), common cold and flu medications, baby formula, ADHD medications, sedatives, and chemotherapy medications.
  • Core challenges:  A lack of real-time data to assess risks, overreliance on foreign manufacturing, and limited economic incentives to maintain critical products hinder our ability to react quickly to shortages and maintain our drug supply.
  • Next steps:  The report calls for industry officials, Congress, and the Executive Branch to work together by “obtaining needed supply chain visibility to proactively identify risks, investing in quality systems and advanced manufacturing technologies, and ensuring supplier diversification through strategic on-shoring for critical generic drugs.”
  • Quotable:  “Federal efforts to mitigate shortages and expand supply chain visibility have been largely reactive instead of predictive,” the report said.

Investing in domestic manufacturing for critical generic drugs, supply chain risk assessments, improved use of data, and better coordination are all key steps to address shortages, the report notes.

The report and today’s hearing are available to review online.

For additional information about managing supply chains and shortages, contact Ryan Weaver, MBA, BSN, RN, CPPS, HAP’s manager, emergency management.