Drug Shortages in US: What Caused It and When It Will End?

New reports say antibiotics and other medicines in both the United States and the United Kingdom have faced significant shortages in recent weeks.

Key takeaways:
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    There have been reports of severe shortages of antibiotics and other medicines in both the United States and the United Kingdom in recent weeks.
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    There are several reasons for drug shortages, including an increase in certain illnesses, the “tripledemic,” and a shortage of supplies to make medication.
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    According to medical experts, the end of many drug shortages will vary, but there are frequently useful alternatives that can still work well for people in need.

CNN reported that some people are rationing pills due to lower amounts of popular prescription drugs, like the antibiotic amoxicillin and the ADHD drug Adderall.

In the UK, the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP) said their antibiotics shortage has reached "unacceptable" levels.

Though drug shortages are not uncommon, a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) confirmed that, on average, there is an increase in drug shortages that also lasted longer than in previous years.

Insider health correspondent, Hilary Brueck explained that some of the reason for these shortages is due to certain illnesses surging sooner this year than expected.

This fact is highlighted by the early 2022 surge of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children. Usually, increases in RSV aren’t expected until the fall and winter months. However, cases increased as early as the summer of 2022.

The early and unprecedented spike in RSV infections has even recently overwhelmed many hospitals.

Public health officials have warned that with RSV, the flu, and COVID surging at the same time, we should all prepare for a "tripledemic" this winter.

Health experts agree that these spikes are due to the fact that COVID-19 safety measures have been lifted in many places. However, medical spaces were not prepared for the surge, hence medication shortages.

“Things weren’t quite ready yet when people started getting sick, so now a lot of people are sick,” Brueck explained.

Erin Fox, a drug shortage expert, told Vox that shortages can also be caused by a lack of raw materials or a problem at the plant where the drug is made.

“[The United States] hasn’t invested in expanding the capacity our country needs,” said Fox.

Unfortunately, drug shortages have been linked to higher death rates. A recent study found that after a drug used to treat septic shock was out of stock for a year, patients who used a substitute had a higher mortality rate.

Some experts say that headlines on drug shortages, due to the illnesses they cover, have made it seem that there is a larger shortage than there is.

Pharmaceutical research scientist David Margraf told CNN, “Shortages hit a lot of different patient populations with different drugs…but many of those don’t get a lot of headline news because they’re very niche.”

The US Food and Drug Administration said it is monitoring drug shortages daily with producers to find ways to improve production. And according to Brueck, most shortages have not reached emergency levels.

“Oftentimes, when a brand name medicine is unavailable, the generic is available, and this is also true the other way around,” said Brueck.

The timing on when some drugs will become more available isn’t known, but Brueck says it depends.

“While drugs like Tamaflu might become more available in the next few weeks, drugs like amoxicillin and albuterol may not be at normal amounts until the spring,” said Brueck.

Meanwhile, experts are searching for medical alternatives, when possible. Doctors may also recommend patients go to compounding pharmacies that can make drugs prescribed by doctors for specific patients with needs that can't be met by traditional pharmacies.

Compounding pharmacies could be great for a child in need of children’s Tylenol in an area where there is a shortage, for example.

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