(HealthDay News) — Americans are facing shortages of drugs critical for cancer treatment, respiratory conditions, and more. In fact, drug shortages increased nearly 30% between 2021 and 2022, a new report shows.
The report, commissioned by the US Senate and discussed during a Senate committee hearing on March 22, revealed a record 5-year high of 295 active drug shortages last year. However, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, 130 drugs are currently in short supply.
The Senate report noted that the average length of a shortage is 1.5 years, though some drugs are in short supply for much longer. More than 15 critical drug products have been scarce for a decade, according to the report.
Cancer drugs highlighted in the report included vincristine, Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), and fludarabine. Vincristine continues to cycle in and out of shortage because only 2 companies are approved to manufacture the drug, and only 1 company is currently doing so.
BCG has been in shortage since 2019, when Merck became the sole supplier of BCG for the US market. The source of the fludarabine shortage is harder to pinpoint, as it is unclear how many companies are manufacturing fludarabine.
The Senate report noted that drug shortages “are caused by a number of factors, including economic drivers, insufficient supply chain visibility, and a continued US overreliance on both foreign and geographically concentrated sources for medications and their raw materials.”
About 80% of manufacturing facilities for ingredients for drugs sold in the US market are in other countries, typically in China or India, where work stoppages can have a major effect. On top of that, no US agency tracks those manufacturers, so shortages can come as a surprise.
The report noted that the COVID-19 pandemic “further exposed longstanding vulnerabilities in the US medical supply chain and the growing threat to the US from an overreliance on China and other countries for manufacturing key drugs, medical supplies, and the raw materials needed to make these products. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated already lean supply lines and left providers scrambling for alternative drug options to care for patients.”