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Will Hurricane Maria Trigger Drug Shortages?

Storm takes heavy toll on Puerto Rico's prescription industry

Will Hurricane Maria trigger a drug shortage

Alamy

Puerto Rico’s pharmaceutical manufacturing industry makes up more than 72 percent of the island’s total exports.

As Puerto Rico moves into a massive recovery effort after Hurricane Maria, here’s a factor that could hit home no matter where you live: the potential of prescription drug shortages.

Thanks to now-expired federal tax incentives, Puerto Rico has been a major pharmaceutical manufacturing center for decades. USA Today notes there are nearly 50 pharmaceutical manufacturing plants on Puerto Rico, which faces months-long issues with providing reliable electrical power even to factories that are otherwise undamaged.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says Puerto Rico’s pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing was a $14.5 billion industry in 2016, making up more than 72 percent of the island’s total exports. It is by far the U.S. leader among states and territories for pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing exports, with Indiana coming in second at less than half of Puerto’s Rico’s total.

USA Today reported that Eli Lily, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Amgen all confirmed they had shut down manufacturing for now at the Puerto Rico plants because of the hurricane. And although backup power sources are available at some of the facilities, getting employees back to work amid their own post-hurricane personal struggles could be an issue.

Manufacturers and the FDA told USA Today they are working on contingency plans to help avoid drug shortages, although the longer-term outlook remains unclear. "They're beginning to look at how to best ensure there’s continuity of operations," Healthcare Ready President Nicolette Louissaint told USA Today. The group is a nonprofit that focuses on hurricane season health care supply chain issues.

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