Pharmaceutical Supply Shortage: The 3 Causes and 3 Solutions

There’s a shortage of medicinal supplies in the U.S., and Americans are already enduring its effects with limited supply and steep increases in the prices of some medicines, including the generic ones. The extent of the shortage was magnified in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria when there became a higher demand for intravenous fluids and injectable opioids. The prices of other medicines have also sharply increased due to manufacturing delays.

If there’s a way for manufacturers to create a faster and more efficient way of processing sterile vs non sterile compounding of medicines, could this solve the shortages? An article entitled ‘Drug Shortage: Root Causes and Potential Solutions’, discussed this crisis. It identified the various factors that were causing the shortage, based on the analysis done by the Drug Shortage Task Force. It also outlined the solutions recommended by the task force. For further discussion on this crisis, continue reading:

Causes of the Shortage 

The article examined the possible reasons why there’s a medical shortage in the U.S. It attempted to seek and understand the underlying factors that could explain the phenomenon. The Drug Shortage Task Force was in charge of the analysis work on the data concerning the shortage. They were led by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is the lead agency of the inter-agency task force. Three root causes were identified as the reasons for shortage:

  1. Manufacturers haven’t been producing medicines that they deem less profitable. There’s no incentive for them to monitor their supply of certain essential medicines.
  2. Manufacturers spend a vast sum of money on research and development for new medicines, overlooking improvement of supply on the products they’ve already produced.
  3. Whenever a market disruption occurs, manufacturers and distributors face logistical and regulatory challenges, which makes it even more difficult to try to bounce back and recover.

It is not an easy job for the FDA, while they’re dealing with the shortage, the federal government also has to deal with other related problems such as the sale of prescriptions for controlled substances.

Recommended Solutions

Public and private stakeholders were gathered by the Drug Shortage Task Force to discuss their findings from the analysis of the data gathered about the shortage. The participants gave their insights about the problem, out of which the task force formed recommended solutions to the problem. Here are some of those recommendations:

  1. Put Incentives in Place

The task force recommended that incentives should be implemented and some regulations on manufacturing should be modified to further improve competition among manufacturers. The task force suggests that new companies should be given financial incentives to entice them to go into small markets and manufacture medicines that would be considered unprofitable. They also recommended that entry barriers should be lowered or reduced to make it easier for new competitors to come into small markets.

The task force noted that improving competition will help spread out the manufacturing capabilities. In the end, the increased capacity for production will assure a steady supply of generic medicines and thus bring down prices. They also recommended that reasonable price controls should be enforced whenever there are run-away price increases in generic medicines and other essential services in health care.

  1. Redirect Investments into Generic Medicines

The Drug Shortage Task Force also encourages large manufacturers to reconsider putting too much investment into the development of new medicines. To spur competition, the government should find a way to encourage pharmaceutical manufacturers to redirect their investments into the development of generic medicines, instead of spending it on research and development of new medicines. They said that the overspending of big pharmas on new pharmaceutical products takes away much-needed resources for the high-value generic medicine market.

The task force recommends three strategies to manage the problem of overinvestment in new medicines. First, they’re suggesting that the purchase and use of high-cost but low-value brands should be disincentivized. The second strategy is that the federal government should provide incentives for the use of high-value, but low-cost generic medicines. The third strategy would be to encourage only spending on research and development of rare, high-cost and high-value breakthrough medicines which don’t have any relation with the generic brands.

  1. Plan Long-Term Organized Response

The task force further suggests that the government should adopt a long-term response to the shortage crisis instead of pursuing a short-term response based on survival requirements. They demonstrated examples of responses to the shortage crisis which looked like they were great ideas, but in the long run, would worsen the problem.

An example of this is when hospitals stockpile their reserves of much-needed generic medicines even when there’s an ongoing shortage. For this reason, pharmacists will be forced to limit their resources, thus causing more shortages. An alternative way to adopt a long-term response is by lengthening expiration dates on medicines that can be approved by the FDA. Unnecessary short expiration dates on medicine only lead to numerous discarded medicines that could have been used by many. Government and its partners in the healthcare sector should formulate a long-term response and find sustainable solutions for the needs of patients.


America is facing a severe shortage of essential generic medicines. Manufacturers haven’t been making enough to supply the requirements of the healthcare sector, since they don’t find it profitable to make them. Fortunately, the Drug Shortage Task Force has given its recommended solutions to address the problem. Now, we can only hope to see these solutions come to fruition in the next years to come.