The current FDA Drug Shortage List (here) identifies 110 drugs in shortage.  Please note that the list contains 128 entries, but 18 of the drugs on the list are reported with their shortage status as resolved.  In contrast, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) lists 254 products on its drug shortage list (here).  Apparently, the discrepancy is a result of different reporting modes and different data-capture mechanisms.

In April 2024, we published a blog (here) outlining some of the issues surrounding the complexity of solving the drug shortage problem.  With regard to one of the current problematic drug shortages, that for ADHD drugs, NBC reports that “ADHD drug shortage shows signs of letting up, but some patients still struggle” to find supply (here).  There are multiple agencies in the federal government (including the FDA and DEA) that are struggling to ensure sufficient supply of these controlled substances in the face of continued increasing demand.

But the bottom line is that, if a patient gets to the pharmacy counter and their prescription cannot be filled, to that patient, it is a signal of a drug shortage.  This may be especially true if the patients live in pharmacy deserts, which “are communities without access to nearby drugstores.  Residents in these areas have to travel much further than others to get prescriptions filled, buy over-the-counter medications or visit the growing number of urgent care clinics found inside stores” (see here).  The number of these pharmacy deserts is increasing as small community pharmacies are closing at an alarming rate.  Imagine, for someone who does not have access to or cannot afford reliable transportation, having to travel a long distance, and then compound that with needing to search for a pharmacy that might carry the medication the patient desperately needs.  Imagine being a cancer patient who is told, “Sorry, we need to switch you to a different medication because we don’t have access to the medication that has been working for you.”

Trying to comprehend these situations in a country with an (allegedly) advanced healthcare system is difficult, but here we are.  So, it does not really matter whether there are 110 drug shortages as reported by one source or 254 as reported by another.  If the patient cannot get the drug they need, when they need it, either through their pharmacy, healthcare system, or healthcare provider, the result is a drug shortage!  Work continues to be done to try to solve this complex problem, through legislation, policy changes, and other means, but the progress is slow, and slow is not good for a patient’s health!