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Drug Shortages

Medications are important to treat or control a variety of health conditions. At times, some medications may be in short supply in the U.S. and throughout the world. Significant drug shortages have been reported for the past two decades. While the number of drugs impacted by shortages has decreased over the past few years, the severity of some shortages may affect how doctors and hospitals care for patients. Staying informed and learning more about shortages can help you ask questions when visiting the hospital, doctor’s office, clinic, or pharmacy. Here is information about drug shortages and what to do if your medication is not available.

How serious are drug shortages?
Overall, drug shortages have decreased over the last several years. Although hospitals and pharmacies are often able to get enough of the drug to continue treating patients as usual, some recent shortages have affected important medications used to take care of patients during hospital visits, including drugs and fluids that may need to be given through a vein.

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

  • Production of drugs may be temporarily stopped due to quality problems with how the drugs are made.
  • Locations where drugs are made may be affected by natural disasters or other emergencies that prevent making or shipping drugs.
  • Drug manufacturers may be unable to get some active ingredients or containers (for example, glass vials or syringes) from suppliers.
  • Companies may make a business decision to stop making a product.
  • If two companies that make the same product merge, less of a drug may be available after the merger.

If one of my drugs isn’t available when I’m hospitalized, how will that affect my care?
Hospitals work very hard to keep patients safe. If a medication is in shortage and cannot be used to treat you, your healthcare team may find another way to give you the same medication (for example, as an oral pill instead of an injection) or find a different medication altogether. Feel free to ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about any medications you are receiving.

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

Why can’t we get drugs from foreign countries?
Most drugs that are available in other countries are not made according to U.S. standards. Drugs are also in short supply in many other countries. During some severe drug shortages, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may allow importing drugs from other countries if it can ensure safety and quality standards are met.

What if I can find my drug outside the U.S?
Federal laws and the FDA regulate the process of bringing 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 FDA to prevent or reduce drug shortages. Some regulations have been changed since drug shortages became a major issue several years ago, and there have been fewer drug shortages in recent years.

Where can I find out more about drug shortages?
Information about current shortages is available on the ASHP and the FDA websites:

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.