|The "Drug Shortages" app--Courtesy of FDA|
By Eric Palmer and Eric Sagonowsky
The FDA has found it difficult to keep the total number of drug shortages from growing, but the agency figures it can at least help healthcare providers more easily track them. To do that it has released a mobile app that will allow anyone to use a smartphone to look up current shortages and discontinuations as well as shortages that have been resolved.
On Wednesday, the FDA announced the release of its "Drug Shortages" app, which is available via a free download on iTunes, the Google Play store and can be found by searching "FDA Drug Shortages."
"The FDA understands that healthcare professionals and pharmacists need real-time information about drug shortages to make treatment decisions," Valerie Jensen, associate director of the Drug Shortage Staff in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. "The new mobile app is an innovative tool that will offer easier and faster access to important drug shortage information."
A variety of factors--from recalls to supply chain issues--can contribute to a shortage of a drug. The incidents can delay or deny needed care for patients, the FDA says, and may lead healthcare professionals to rely on less-effective or higher-risk alternatives. For several years, the FDA has been trying a number of initiatives to get a handle on the drug shortages, including requiring drugmakers to give it a heads up if they suspect a plant problem or other factor will lead to a shortage. That has allowed the FDA to turn to other producers or expedite approvals to short-circuit a shortage. In a report to Congress last year, it was able to report that in the previous year it had worked with manufacturers to prevent 140 potential shortages.
Still, dozens of shortages remain. Seventy-two drugs are currently on the FDA shortages list, and in many cases several manufacturers are unable to meet current demands for those drugs. In one particularly vexing area, four companies currently show shortages of the commonly used saline solution. That shortage has been going on for more than a year when a surge in demand ran head on to recalls from Hospira ($HSP), Baxter ($BAX) and B. Braun. The FDA has been working with the three drugmakers to increase production of the essential product. It has even has temporarily allowed saline to be imported from a couple of plants outside of the U.S. that are not approved to sell here.
Last month, a Pew Charitable Trusts report found that tackling the drug shortage problem will take a multipronged attack by regulators, payers and industry. It suggested both incentives to help drugmakers afford plant upgrades that can prevent shortages and penalties in some cases when they don't.
Report: 'Carrot and stick' needed to deal with drug shortages
Baxter recalls another lot of saline solution as shortage persists
Drug shortages vex the U.S. despite the FDA's best efforts