What to Do About Drug Shortages

To the Editor:

Re “Drug Shortages Continue to Vex Doctors” (news article, Feb. 11):

When it comes to addressing drug shortages, economic factors aren’t just “a contributing factor”; they’re the main factor.

Most of America’s drug shortages arise in the generics market, where profitability is fairly low. This market can sustain only a handful of manufacturers, so when supply disruptions occur, there aren’t a lot of additional producers (or in many cases any) in the market to pick up the slack.

Drugs that hold relatively stable prices, on the other hand, tend not to experience shortages, according to an October 2011 report by the Department of Health and Human Services. In other words, artificially low prices caused mainly by government programs — ranging from Medicaid to the problematic 340B discount drug program — have caused shortages. Where there’s still a profit, there are rarely shortages.

Washington, Feb. 11, 2014

The writer, a former associate commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
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