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Inside E Street

Drug Shortage

The availability of medications is leading to a shortage that has left a 'gray market' in the medical field.

With a health care system that is often referred to as the best available in the world, why are U.S. hospitals and institutions left scrambling to stock up on certain drugs?

See also: When drugs go off patent.

Hospitals across the country are facing a shortage of available medicine for patients.

Many hospitals are rationing critical cancer and anesthesia drugs as a result of chronic medication shortages. — Courtesy: AARP Broadcast

The problem of drug shortages in the United States has been increasing exponentially in the last decade. As the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists reports, 2011 saw a record 267 medication shortages, mostly for generic antibiotics, pain killers and anesthetics. The lack of availability for these important drugs has led to 15 deaths in a 15-month period, and has sparked an emerging “gray market” for institutions to acquire these vital medicines. 

Many hospital and medical centers are now rationing certain drugs, and are at times forced to buy medications from third-party distributors who systematically increase the price. The alarming economic and health consequences of this led President Obama to sign an executive order strengthening notification requirements by drug manufacturers to the FDA when a potential shortage is looming. Drug manufacturers are not required to report the reasons for a shortage unless they are the sole producer of a medication. So now the government is attempting to tackle the issue head-on.

Have a medication question? Ask the Pharmacist. »

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