The New York Times picked up on a trend The Washington Post recognized earlier in the year. It’s not just execution drugs and medical radioisotopes that have run scarce over the last two years. Just about any high-value pharmaceuticals targeting serious infection and life-threatening diseases have had issues with scarcity. Over 180 drugs this year have been declared in short supply, on pace to break last year’s mark of 211. Prices of the scarce drugs have risen, often dramatically. Some clinical trials have been affected by the shortages, as alternative drugs must be available.
There are efforts underway to better address shortages and to have an earlier warning of such possibilities. There is legislation in both the House and Senate addressing this issue by increasing the notice requirements for drug manufacturers. The Centers for Disease Control may (and probably should) expand its drug stockpiles beyond antivirals to include many of these drugs.
One possible action that seems difficult to effectively manage is the need for foreign sources of these drugs. And if a foreign supply chain is going to happen, there needs to be a means to assess those drugs and their producers to the same level of quality as is done for domestic sources. Whatever you may think of how effectively drug safety and efficacy (the ability to produce the intended effect) are guaranteed by the Food and Drug Administration, they simply aren’t in a position right now to do the same for drugs produced overseas. Perhaps the current examination of clinical trials conducted outside of the U.S. may provide guidance on how to deal with drug quality for that produced outside the country.