Study finds U.S. drug shortage problem concentrated

Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:32am EST

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(Reuters) - A shortage of medicines in the United States that recently gained the attention of President Barack Obama is worst among about 75 products while supplies of other scarce drugs are either stable or have improved, according to a report released on Monday,

Researchers at the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics took 168 drugs officially reported in shortage as of October 7 and combined that list with IMS Health sales data to find that the problem is more concentrated than overall figures suggest.

Of the drugs that come up short, drugmakers have been providing stable supplies of 56 of them, 31 medicines became more available, but 75 products have been on a steep decline.

More than 80 percent of all affected drugs were generic injectable medications, meaning drugs without patent protection that generally treat acute disease. In fact, half of the generic injectable drugs sold in the United States were on the shortages list, according to the report.

Although all major therapy areas were affected, cancer drugs took the biggest hit, accounting for 16 percent of all medications in shortage and putting more than a half million patients at risk for unexpectedly losing access to potentially life-saving treatments, the report said.

"It's a finite and relatively small number of products that are causing the disruption," said Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

"Not to diminish the issue of disruption because these products are very important ... it's useful to be more specific and focused in looking at the part of the market that is especially affected."

The problem has authorities and experts perplexed and led Obama late last month to sign an executive order to address it. Just 56 drugs were reported as scare in 2006, the FDA has said.

The IMS report found great volatility in the availability of some drugs in recent years, likely linked to the simple fact that some drugmakers just stopped making those medicines.

Although almost 100 companies in all were supplying the 168 products in short supply, half of those drugs were made by only one or two suppliers, the report found.

Of the troubled 75, a single company or two companies were supplying 65 percent of them, Aitken said.

"Some (companies) have decided to stop production of these types of drugs, and if it leaves one or two suppliers, that doesn't provide a lot of flexibility when one might have a manufacturing problem of some sort," he said.

"Part of the story is there may not be sufficient economic incentive currently in this sector of the market."

The corporations supplying the most number of drugs from the shortage list were Hospira Inc and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA. Others included Novartis AG, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer and Baxter Healthcare, according to the report.

The companies most commonly report manufacturing problems, discontinuation or suspension of production and increased demand as the cause of drug shortages, said the report by IMS, a healthcare research company.

Researchers in the report based their analysis on the lists of drugs in shortage compiled by the Food and Drug Administration and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

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Comments (3)
Adam_S wrote:
LOL. Their excuses are terrible.

“We don’t have patent protection for these drugs anymore, so we can’t charge hundreds per month anymore. Hence, they aren’t economically viable, and we don’t really want to make them. Maybe if you cancer patients were willing to mortgage your childrens’ home in addition to your own, we’d consider making more of them. Maybe.”

Nov 14, 2011 2:27pm EST  --  Report as abuse
SeniorMoment wrote:
Nothing has really been done to help the majority of Americans with financial struggles. Even when refinancing might solve a big chunk of the problem for homeowners most won’t qualify because while their homes are underwater with more owed than their value, the conventional loan down payment has increased from 20% to 25%. That does nothing for a homeowners who is 35% underwater on the mortgage.

What recovery may take is easier bankruptcy for those who have not gone bankrupt in the prior 30 years. The fact is the slow down in bankruptcy filings has ended with people much worse off than in the past until they qualify for the newer, stricter terms on filing bankruptcy.

Nov 14, 2011 4:17pm EST  --  Report as abuse
OneOfTheSheep wrote:
I have founded a successful business personally, run it for over a decade, and sold it; and, two decades later it still exists. I’m NOT anti-business. But I AM, like other Americans, offended when there is not enough competition in certain products and services for the laws of supply and demand to protect consumers.

A rose by any other name is still a rose, and when prices for gas or fuel oil rise suddenly and simultaneously throughout a community is that unlawful collusion? I suspect so, but consumers have no “lobby” to investigate and seek timely and effective prosecution in their behalf.

Taxpayers fund the FDA, but they clearly do not get their money’s worth. Government is like catsup…you either get none or wayyy too much.

Let’s say there was four or five manufacturers of similar drugs, all patents expiring about the same time; and several of these have “follow-on” drugs for similar purpose more recently patented. Is it illegal for them to discontinue production of the cheaper product? No. Is it unethical to force consumers to buy the more expensive, new drug by eliminating less expensive alternates? Yes. But unethical is not illegal.

I propose a 501(3)(c) corporation with a permanent and defined goal of undertaking production and distribution of effective, “orphan” drugs of limited or unpredictable source. At any time the number of commercial producers falls to two, and supplies become erratic, unpredictable or unavailable it would intervene to correct the situation.

The alternative is what we have now, a situation all too easily exploitable by companies without conscience who are able and willing to victimize those whose life may depend on the predictable availability of their least profitable products. The spectre of companies enjoying all of the benefits of monopoly through collusion and marketplace manipulation without facing legal consequences is not in America’s national or the public interest of Americans.

Nov 14, 2011 5:03pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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