National tracking of drug shortages began in 2001. However, a significant increase in the number of shortages began in late 2009, with numbers reaching what many have termed crisis level. The typical drug in short supply is a generic product administered by injection. Common classes of drugs affected by shortages include anesthesia medications, antibiotics, pain medications, nutrition and electrolyte products, and chemotherapy agents. The economic and clinical effects of drug shortages are significant. The financial effect of drug shortages is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars annually for health systems across the United States. Clinically, patients have been harmed by the lack of drugs or inferior alternatives, resulting in more than 15 documented deaths. Drug shortages occur for a variety of reasons. Generic injectable drugs are particularly susceptible to drug shortages because there are few manufacturers of these products and all manufacturers are running at full capacity. In addition, some manufacturers have had production problems, resulting in poor quality product. Although many suppliers are working to upgrade facilities and add additional manufacturing lines, these activities take time. A number of stakeholder organizations have been involved in meetings to further determine the causes and effects of drug shortages. A new law was enacted in July 2012 that granted the Food and Drug Administration additional tools to address the drug shortage crisis. The future of drug shortages is unknown, but there are hopeful indications that quality improvements and additional capacity may decrease the number of drug shortages in the years to come.
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