Economics of Generic Drugs

The Danger:

WASHINGTON (AP) — A growing shortage of medications for a host of illnesses – from cancer to cystic fibrosis to cardiac arrest – has hospitals scrambling for substitutes to avoid patient harm, and sometimes even delaying treatment.

“It’s just a matter of time now before we call for a drug that we need to save a patient’s life and we find out there isn’t any,” says Dr. Eric Lavonas of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

The primary culprit:

The Food and Drug Administration agrees that the overarching problem is that fewer and fewer manufacturers produce these older, cheaper generic drugs, especially the harder-to-make injectable ones. So if one company has trouble – or decides to quit making a particular drug – there are few others able to ramp up their own production to fill the gap, says Valerie Jensen, who heads FDA’s shortage office.

An exception to the rule:

Some experts pointedly note that pricier brand-name drugs seldom are in short supply.

Another exception:

The FDA has taken an unusual step, asking some foreign companies to temporarily ship to the U.S. their own versions of some scarce drugs that aren’t normally sold here. That eased shortages of propofol, a key anesthesia drug, and the transplant drug thiotepa.

It would be interesting to see how many of the 211 drugs on the shortage list are freely available in non-FDA countries.

Hospitals hunt substitutes as drug shortages rise, LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer


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