Shortages highlight supply chain communications problem

Richard Demers, director for pharmacy services at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, wants to know why drug shortages have become a trend. They make him scramble along the supply chain to line up alternative treatments, and then inform doctors and nurses.

"There is a good two to three months of supply in the supply chain," he tells the Philadelphia Inquirer. Yet he often won't hear about a shortage until he's ordering from a distributor that can't get the drugs he needs.

Most of the drugs falling short of meeting demand are generics, and about 70 percent of those are injectables. The list of shortages in the longest seen by the University of Utah's Drug Information Service in a decade: 199 drugs as of December 1, two more than all of last year, the previous high.

Reasons run the gamut from fewer manufacturers of generics due to industry consolidation to the greater cost and less profit they garner compared with brand-name drugs to production problems. Some of the latter result from the FDA's scrutiny of drug plants and the time required for manufactures to bring substandard operations back into compliance.

Hospira ($HSP), among those attempting to get supplies of its drugs back up to demand levels, acknowledges the problem. It says in a statement that it recognizes its role in the problem and is working to improve communication about shortages."

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