Drug shortages are an increasing risk, health system pharmacists say

Trade restrictions, pandemics and climate change will likely increase the potential for drug shortages, 92 percent of health system pharmacy experts told the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in its 2021 pharmacy forecast report, released this month. 

In the report, released Feb. 4 in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, the society said that there was a 36.6 percent increase in drug shortages between 2017 and 2020, with 276 of them in 2020, according to the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

"With a global pandemic and continuing uncertainty regarding the stability and quality of the medication supply chain, health-system pharmacists must be prepared for significant disruptions to 'normal' healthcare delivery, including disruption of medication procurement," wrote two of the report's authors, Erin Fox, PharmD, senior director of drug information and support services at the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City, and Aaron Kesselheim, MD, an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Ninety percent of the 272 health system pharmacy experts surveyed in the report predict that at least 75 percent of health systems will develop drug allocation guidelines using resources such as ethics committees or crisis standards of care to mitigate drug shortages. Ninety percent of those surveyed also said a major technology failure or breach could cause widespread disruptions in the delivery of U.S. healthcare supplies, including drugs. 

The panelists agreed that allocation guides, a push for domestic supply chains and manufacturing quality scrutiny would be highly relevant topics for health system pharmacists for the next five years, according to the Minnesota center. 

To combat drug shortages, the report's authors recommend allocation guidelines; better information-sharing; more contingencies for pandemic-related issues such as demand surges; drug acquisition contacts that include periodic reports on quality measures; and legislation to facilitate both lower spending and better pharmaceutical product quality, according to the Minnesota center.

Read the full report here.

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