National Drug Shortages Hit Record Levels

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April 18, 2024 – Requesting a refill at the local pharmacy or getting a complete series of a specific chemotherapy is becoming hit-and-miss as problems with the pharmaceutical supply chain mount.

Drug shortages have reached record levels, hitting a new peak of 323 medicines in the U.S. for which demand has exceeded supply during the first 3 months of 2024. That tops the record of 320 active shortages in 2014, according to a professional group that tracks the problems along with the University of Utah.

The shortages extend broadly beyond blockbuster injectable weight loss drugs. They include numerous antibiotics and medicines for problems with the heart and blood vessels. 

“Some of the most worrying shortages involve generic sterile injectable medications, including cancer chemotherapy drugs and emergency medications stored in hospital crash carts and procedural areas. Ongoing national shortages of therapies for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder also remain a serious challenge for clinicians and patients,” wrote American Society of Health-System Pharmacists CEO Paul W. Abramowitz, PharmD, in his most recent blog post

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the University of Utah’s Drug Information Service collect voluntary shortage reports and maintain a database of drug shortages. 

In some cases, people searching for their next dose of scarce medications like the diabetes drug Ozempic and its weight loss counterpart Wegovy last year turned to substitutes, such as compounded versions, that can result in side effects. The situation led the FDA to warn people to avoid compounded versions and to be alert that some drugs may be marketed as having the same active ingredient, when instead they contained a salt formulation that had not been shown to be safe or effective.

Ozempic is no longer listed as experiencing an active shortage, but Wegovy still can be difficult to find. Ozempic and Wegovy are both made by Novo Nordisk and use the same active ingredient, semaglutide. The semaglutide shortage began in 2022, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ database.

The FDA also maintains a shortage list and recently added most doses of another new and popular weight loss injectable drug called Zepbound (its generic name is tirzepatide). The version of tirzepatide used for diabetes is called Mounjaro, and both are made by Eli Lilly. The shortage comes just months after Zepbound was approved by the FDA, and the agency says “limited availability” is likely to persist through at least June this year.