It Takes a Village…: Contending With Drug Shortages During Disasters

Chest. 2020 Dec;158(6):2414-2424. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2020.08.015. Epub 2020 Aug 14.


Critical drug shortages have been widely documented during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, particularly for IV sedatives used to facilitate mechanical ventilation. Surges in volume of patients requiring mechanical ventilation coupled with prolonged ventilator days and the high sedative dosing requirements observed quickly led to the depletion of "just-in-time" inventories typically maintained by institutions. This manuscript describes drug shortages in the context of global, manufacturing, regional and institutional perspectives in times of a worldwide crisis such as a pandemic. We describe etiologic factors that lead to drug shortages including issues related to supply (eg, manufacturing difficulties, supply chain breakdowns) and variables that influence demand (eg, volatile prescribing practices, anecdotal or low-level data, hoarding). In addition, we describe methods to mitigate drug shortages as well as conservation strategies for sedatives, analgesics and neuromuscular blockers that could readily be applied at the bedside. The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the need for a coordinated, multi-pronged approach to optimize medication availability as individual or unilateral efforts are unlikely to be successful.

Keywords: critical care; disaster; drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / supply & distribution
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / therapy*
  • Critical Care
  • Disasters
  • Drug Combinations
  • Drug Industry*
  • Drug Repositioning
  • Humans
  • Hydroxychloroquine / supply & distribution
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / supply & distribution
  • Internationality*
  • Inventories, Hospital
  • Length of Stay
  • Lopinavir / supply & distribution
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / supply & distribution*
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Ritonavir / supply & distribution
  • Strategic Stockpile
  • Surge Capacity
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Drug Combinations
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • lopinavir-ritonavir drug combination
  • Lopinavir
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Ritonavir