Drug shortage policies still come up short

A shortage of generic IV fluids has left healthcare providers across the country struggling to treat a spike in flu cases. This scarcity problem is just the latest in a growing number of drug shortages nationwide.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made good progress in preventing future shortages, but federal officials continue to ignore their own role in causing many of the nation's drug-supply difficulties. Government policies that artificially reduce pharmaceutical prices and regulations that needlessly disrupt supply chains are a primary cause of medicine shortages.

In a report released earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the total number of shortages has steadily increased since 2007. Indeed, 2012 saw more than 450 new or ongoing drug shortages throughout the country -- some lasting longer than 5 years.

On the bright side, the report found that new shortages are on the decline. This trend is partly due to 2012 reforms that allow the FDA to manage the problem more aggressively. Among other things, the new law empowered the agency to show more regulatory flexibility when resolving manufacturing and quality issues.
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