Causes of drug shortages in the legal pharmaceutical framework

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2015 Mar;71(2):251-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2015.01.005. Epub 2015 Jan 12.


Introduction: Different causes of drug shortages can be linked to the pharmaceutical legal framework, such as: parallel trade, quality requirements, economic decisions to suspend or cease production, etc. However until now no in-depth study of the different regulations affecting drug shortages is available. The aim of this paper is to provide an analysis of relevant legal and regulatory measures in the European pharmaceutical framework which influence drug shortages.

Methods: Different European and national legislations governing human medicinal products were analyzed (e.g. Directive 2001/83/EC and Directive 2011/62/EU), supplemented with literature studies.

Results: For patented drugs, external price referencing may encompass the largest impact on drug shortages. For generic medicines, internal or external reference pricing, tendering as well as price capping may affect drug shortages. Manufacturing/quality requirements also contribute to drug shortages, since non-compliance leads to recalls. The influence of parallel trade on drug shortages is still rather disputable.

Conclusion: Price and quality regulations are both important causes of drug shortages or drug unavailability. It can be concluded that there is room for improvement in the pharmaceutical legal framework within the lines drawn by the EU to mitigate drug shortages.

Keywords: Drug shortages; Legal framework; Market authorization; Parallel trade; Pricing; Quality requirements; Quota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Costs and Cost Analysis / economics
  • Costs and Cost Analysis / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Drug Industry / economics
  • Drug Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Drugs, Generic / economics
  • European Union*
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations* / economics
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms / legislation & jurisprudence
  • United Kingdom
  • United States


  • Drugs, Generic
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations