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Medications are important to treat your condition or keep you healthy. However, many drugs are in very short supply in the U.S and many other countries. You can be affected by drug shortages when you are treated in a hospital or if you take medications at home.  Currently, most drug shortages involve injectable drugs routinely used in hospitals and infusion clinics. Here is information about drug shortages and what to do if your medication is not available.

How serious are drug shortages?
There were a record number of drug shortages in 2010. Shortages in 2011 may be even higher. This means that some patients may have to wait for life saving medications or have medical procedures postponed.

Why are there so many shortages?
There are many causes of drug shortages. The most frequent reasons are:

  • Production of drugs may be temporarily stopped due to quality problems with how the drugs are made.
  • Shortages of raw materials due to problems with quality of these ingredients or severe weather.
  • Companies may make business decisions to stop making a product. Less of the drug may be available after the merger of two companies that make the same product.
  • Changes in the amount of medications supplied to different hospital systems, community pharmacies, and chain drugstores.

If one of my drugs isn’t available when I’m hospitalized, how will that affect my care?
Your caregivers will make every effort to make sure your care is not changed. The pharmacists in your hospital will search for your medication. If none can be found, they will work with your doctors to select another drug that can treat you just as well.

What if the new drug isn’t right for me or doesn’t work?
Your doctor and your pharmacist can answer your questions if you do not feel better or experience unexpected symptoms when your drug is changed.

Why can’t we get drugs from foreign countries?
Most foreign drugs are not made according to US standards. Drugs are also in short supply in many other countries.

What if I can find my drug outside the U.S?
Federal laws, including review by the FDA, oversee the process to bring medications from another country into the U.S. Your hospital may not be able to use a foreign drug if quality and safety can’t be checked. You should discuss this with your doctor and pharmacist. The FDA has information about how to import drugs in those instances when other alternatives are not available.

What is being done to reduce shortages?
Healthcare organizations are working with Congress, drug manufacturers, and the Food and Drug Administration to prevent or reduce drug shortages. New laws have been suggested to reduce drug shortages.

Where can I find out more about drug shortages?

What can I do about shortages?
If you have more questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor. If you or a family member is affected by drug shortages, fill out a shortage report on ASHP’s website or contact your Congressional representatives to tell your story.