The Drug Shortage Scandal


This morning I was intrigued to learn that the US has been experiencing regular shortages of anesthetics, painkillers, antibiotics, cancer treatments, heart drugs and other lifesaving medications. Doctors routinely deal with these shortages by “rationing.” In other words, deciding which patients are more deserving of treatment.

Although the problem has been going on a decade or more, most doctors don’t inform patients when they withhold clinically indicated treatments. Prior to a January 29 New York Times article Drug shortages forcing hard decisions on rationing treatment, the American public was also totally in the dark.

Did you know there was a Drug Shortages Summit in 2011 to address this public health emergency? I sure didn’t. Nor did I know know about the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (FDASIA) Congress passed four years ago to address the crisis.

The FDA Solution: A New App

A recent examination of the FDA website, which lists nearly 100 current drug shortages, suggests FDASIA isn’t working that well. However taxpayers will be pleased to learn the FDA has created a new app for android devices that sends alerts when the Agency adds or updates shortage information. They are currently working on an iOS version, which will be available soon.

The New York Times article profiles several doctors who talk about the difficulty of deciding which patients are more worthy of treatment. Some institutions have formal committees that include ethicists and patient representatives to decide which patients receive a needed drug — and which do not.

A February 8 Times editorial waffles about the “root cause” of the drug shortage crisis. Their list of possible causes includes “manufacturing quality and compliance problems, raw material sourcing, and drug company consolidation and business decisions that result in the discontinuation of critical drugs.”

M.E. Markowski is far more direct in a 2012 Harvard Law School paper The Problem of Inadequate Profits. Markowski states, in essence, that pharmaceutical companies have no profit incentive to create a sufficient supply of essential medications to meet patient need.

Unbelievable. The US spends twice as much (per capita) as any other country. Drug company profits are soaring. Meanwhile patients are dying because they can’t get medications they need for life threatening conditions.

The Solution is Easy

Although the OECD ranks New Zealand far below the US in economic standing (20th as opposed to 4th), we don’t suffer from major drug shortages here. Like all other industrial countries (except for the US), we have a national health service. In this country, drug availability isn’t determined by drug companies seeking to increase their profits. In New Zealand Pharmac, a government agency staffed by health professionals, makes all our drug purchasing decisions.

Photo credit: J. Troha (Photographer) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

11 thoughts on “The Drug Shortage Scandal

  1. This has been going on for a while now.

    A few years back, my asthma medication, which had my asthma well stabilized. was all of a sudden “out of stock” for several months. If my allergist had not had a large stockpile of samples, I would have been in trouble.

    Since that time, I have reduced my dependence on big pharma drugs for asthma down to one med. As you know, I use Colloidal silver as an inhalant now, and have been using it for the last two years. And I am in the process of weaning myself off of the last asthma med, although I have not been successful up to this point.

    Talk about criminal actions, well here is a blatant example!


    • This is especially frightening, given the big increase in asthma in the general population. I suspect this is the most common life threatening condition affected by drug shortages.

      I’m curious – do you make your own colloidal silver? I make my own with a little kit I got from a local supplements distributor. It’s really quite expensive in the health food shops, especially if you use a lot of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Frightening is the word!

        Oh yes, I make my own. I could not afford to buy it already prepared. And besides, since I am inhaling it, I’m not trusting of what I would find in any store.

        I actually acquired a free kit through an online site when I began. I make up a batch every three to four weeks.


  2. You’re right. It’s a huge scandal. We’ve been writing about this for years, but Congress has no interest in the facts, just campaign contributions from the wonderful folks who caused this global crisis. For more info and documentation, visit our website,
    Phil Zweig MBA
    Executive Director
    Physicians Against Drug Shortages
    New York City


    • Great link, Phil. Very eye opening. Thanks for sharing. I must admit I have little confidence in regulation to curb predatory capitalism. The corporations involved are far too powerful and since Citizens United they virtually run our elections. As a long time member of Physicians for a National Health Plan, I agree with Bernie Sanders – that the only solution to this kind of corruption is enactment of a single payer system of health care financing like Canada has.


  3. More evidence of the fact that we are up the creek without a paddle. Why am I not surprised over this? Because it is business as usual and no pun intended. We are insignificant and who don’t know that by now is already dead. There is not a silver lining in sight. If this ain’t the latest version of The Titanic, I don’t know what is!

    Even though Americans probably use more pharmaceuticals than the rest of the world combined, there still should not be drug shortages of this magnitude. I just cannot comprehend the suffering of patients who have no access to needed medicines. This is an abomination!

    Thank you once again, Dr. Bramhall, for bringing to our attention just how knee deep in shit, we Americans really are!


    • I must admit I was surprised, Shelby. I had no idea things had gotten quite this bad. In essence the US has become a third world country. The billionaires have stripped all the money out of US society and there’s simply no money left to fix potholes or water pipes or provide basic education or health services.

      Liked by 1 person

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