Millions of Americans feel the impact Medication shortagesFrom children’s Tylenol to amoxicillin. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our drug supply chains, underlining America’s dependence on foreign — even hostile — nations for our most important medicines.
Absent political action, Americans will continue to grapple with this life-threatening deficiency. We know this because, unfortunately, it is nothing new.
Supply-driven generic market failures have been around for more than two decades, resulting in persistent shortages and quality risks. At any given time, there are typically around 150-200 generics that are in short supply.
Generic drugs account for approx 90 percent of all medications dispensed or administered. Unfortunately, manufacturers face negative market incentives to make these drugs here. As a result of long and “just-in-time” global supply chains, generics are often the most vulnerable to shortages, especially when demand increases dramatically in a matter of days or weeks.
This is exactly what happened when demand soared in the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to shortages of the most common and least expensive drugs on the market, to the detriment of American patients.
From every setback there are steps forward. By working together through many legal and rule changes, Congress, the executive branch, and businesses can help prevent future shortages.
For example, coalitions of multi-industry companies can work with the federal government to promote collaborative solutions between the public and private sectors. It takes a network of manufacturers, distributors, and public health stakeholders to provide proactive solutions and avert future shortages for the American people. Getting them all on the same page and on the same schedule is key.
In addition, the government can help ensure a stable supply of essential medicines by working across agencies and with private distributors in the country to build stocks of essential medicines, drawing on the experience of the commercial market in safeguarding the effective storage and timely distribution of these medicines.
the Essential Medicines Strategic Stockpile Act (EMSSA) It would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a list of 50 generic drugs considered essential in public health emergencies, in the same way that the United States has reserves of oil for energy emergencies.
This bill would allow the US government to harness private sector innovation by contracting with HHS to stock critical medicines within their supply chains. Companies may also be required to continually rotate additional drugs through their supply chain to avoid any expiration issues while maintaining a six-month supply of product that the federal government can access at any moment.
This pilot program, which we reintroduced this month, will be the first of its kind at HHS to prepare for pharmaceutical shortages. Congress should pass this immediately.
There is broad bipartisan support for increasing domestic medical production because Health and Welfare does not adhere to party lines. Severe drug shortages don’t just affect Democrats or Republicans — they affect us all. Passing EMSSA and protecting Americans from drug shortages is appropriate, necessary, and bipartisan. It’s time for Congress to act.
Buddy Carter is a pharmacist and sits on the House Energy and Commerce and Budget Committees. Lisa Blunt Rochester He serves as the assistant whip to the House Command and sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.