America’s medicine cabinet is dangerously empty. But not for long. September 8th marks National Essential Medicine Shortage Awareness Day, an opportunity to acknowledge that medicine shortages represent an urgent public health crisis and to fix it — for good.
Until we do, Americans will continue to experience the unacceptable reality that the medicines needed to save lives and conquer disease are often unavailable. That can mean the replacement of first-line therapies with alternative medications, medication errors, and compromises or delays in medical procedures.
With a timely launch in 2021, National Essential Medicine Shortage Awareness Day marks a step forward in a joint effort to spread awareness and encourage action about a critical issue that impacts everyone. Driving the importance of this year’s observance of National Essential Shortage Awareness Day are alarming statistics demonstrating that our country’s health and national security are at risk. Experts point to our country’s dwindling, 60-day national supply of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) that make up our most essential medicines.1 During the past six years, the number of essential lifesaving medicines in shortage increased by 393%, and the number of essential lifesaving medicines that have no substitutes increased by 125%.2
While essential medicine shortages have been a persistent challenge for the U.S. healthcare system for more than a decade, the Covid-19 pandemic has further amplified vulnerabilities in the overall supply chain for essential medicines in America. Yet long before the Covid-19 pandemic, the nation’s pharmaceutical pricing, reimbursement, and distribution channels had proven overcomplex, overengineered, and inefficient. One critical issue that National Essential Medicine Shortage Day aims to call attention to is the fact that the United States has become dependent on foreign manufacturing and supply chains for our most important medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients.
As the country observes National Essential Medicine Shortage Awareness Day, participants are being encouraged to examine the factors that led to our nation’s dangerous dependency on foreign suppliers for our most essential medicines. “Essential medicines” are defined as those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the American population to sustain life and conquer disease and are medications that are used every day in emergency departments, outpatient clinics, and on ambulances.
Currently, there is little business incentive for U.S. drug companies to manufacture generic drugs. Foreign governments subsidize generic drug manufacturing which makes it cheaper for these countries to produce and export these drugs to the U.S. The manufacturing of over 100 essential generic medicines has been outsourced to a limited number of medicine manufacturers in foreign countries.1 This over-reliance on foreign supply chains has left U.S. citizens’ access to medical treatment vulnerable to global economic and political crises.
The human cost of the current system leading to shortages of essential medicines is increasing. A growing movement driven by public-private partnerships and forward-thinking industry leaders with bipartisan, bicameral support is now committed to solving this issue for Americans today and for generations to come. A critical part of this shared mission is providing a platform for collective action through efforts like National Essential Medicine Shortage Awareness Day.
Across the U.S., a wide range of new and collaborative approaches are emerging to improve essential medicine manufacturing capacity, supply, and distribution. Every stakeholder that participates in National Essential Medicine Shortage Awareness Day represents a new opportunity for creating resilience, reliability, and enhanced national public health security. At Phlow Corp., as an example, industry leaders are working in tandem to use advanced manufacturing technologies and optimization strategies to help fix the broken supply chain that has resulted in the shortage of the essential medicines. To make this vision possible, Phlow has partnered with the U.S. Government, VCU’s Medicines for All Institute, Civica Rx and AMPAC Fine Chemicals in an effort to bring manufacturing of essential medicines in shortage back to the U.S. Together, Phlow and its partners are demonstrating the spirit of National Essential Medicines Shortage Awareness Day through collaboration that is leading to the key infrastructure required to establish its end-to-end, U.S.-based supply chain capability to produce essential medicines and medical countermeasures.
Another way in which healthcare and pharmaceutical leaders are demonstrating their commitment to solving the shortages crisis can be found in the Children’s Hospital Coalition (CHC), a first-in-kind coalition comprised of more than 20 children’s hospitals and Phlow. This unique gathering of coalition members are working to solve the persistent problem of shortages of essential medicines in pediatric hospitals around the country by identifying drugs in shortage and accumulating the volume of essential medicines most needed to create a sustainable supply. As a result, CHC is providing certainty in availability, quality, access, and affordability for key medicines. It is this kind of collective action that represents the spirit of NEMSAD and serves as an example of what is possible when we work together to fix the nation’s broken essential medicines supply chain.
While stopping the shortages is a complex task, participants of National Essential Medicines Shortage Awareness Day are united around a day that belongs to everyone. Medical professionals, healthcare providers, government officials, and the general public are being asked to join in observing National Essential Medicine Shortage Awareness Day by visiting www.stoptheshortages.com to encourage open dialogue and spark bold action everywhere. Together, we can create a future where every American has access to the essential medicines they deserve.
1. 114 drugs currently in shortage, per FDA. Mackenzie Bean. Becker’s Hospital Review. 2022.
2. Doroudi, R., Sequeira, P., Marsella, S., Ergun, O., Azghandi, R., Kaeli, D., . . . Griffin, J. (2020). Effects of trust-based decision making in disrupted supply chains. PLoS One, 15(2).