Report finds coronavirus pandemic leading to ‘unacceptable’ shortage of US drug supplies

A report released this week from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota said that COVID-19-related drug shortages in the United States have reached “unacceptable” levels.

“Ensuring a Resilient US Prescription Drug Supply” is the sixth report in the center’s series titled, “COVID-19: The CIDRAP Viewpoint.” 

The newest report, released Wednesday, found that 29 out of 40, or approximately 73 percent, of drug treatments for COVID-19 are experiencing shortages, including propofol, albuterol, midazolam, hydroxychloroquine, fentanyl, azithromycin and morphine, citing data from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported that 45 percent, or 18 out of 40, of the drug treatments are on its official drug shortage list, according to CIDRAP. 

The report added that 67 out of 156 critical acute drugs, including diazepam, phenobarbital, lidocaine and acetaminophen, are also in short supply. 

“Drug shortages can be a matter of life and death, and some shortages mean that a life-saving drug is not available to U.S. patients at any price,” CIDRAP said in a statement announcing the report’s release

“There is an urgent need for new, more effective policy with robust transparency to solve the persistent drug shortage issues plaguing the U.S. healthcare system,” the statement added. 

Michael Osterholm, the director of CIDRAP, said in the news release, “The urgency with the drug shortage supply issue is related directly to the major increase in COVID-19 cases that we will experience in the coming months.” 

“This, in turn, will dramatically increase the need for specific COVID-19 treatment drugs, while at the same, COVID-19 is having a major impact on two of the three key drug manufacturing areas of the world, India and Italy,” he added. 

According to the report, the drug shortages have been fueled by the closure of production factories, shipping delays, shutdowns, limitations on trade and export bans amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

CIDRAP outlined several possible solutions in its report, including a national infrastructure for “analyzing, predicting, managing and preventing shortages of critical medications” and the creation of an in-depth map to measure the U.S. drug supply chain. 

The drug shortages come amid the race to approve a coronavirus vaccine for public use in the U.S. 

While experts have predicted that a vaccine may not be safe and ready for FDA approval until the end of this year or into 2021, the Trump administration has aimed to get one out sooner through its Operation Warp Speed. 

In Thursday’s final presidential debate, President TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: ‘I would transition from the oil industry’ MORE claimed that new rising cases across the country would soon be “gone” and that a vaccine could be available in a matter of weeks. 

“It will go away, and I say we’re rounding the turn, we are rounding the corner. It is going away,” he said of the coronavirus, a remark that his administration’s own health

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Covid-19 is causing ‘unacceptable’ shortages in US drug supplies, report says

The report says shortages have limited 29 of 40 drugs critical for treating Covid-19 patients, including propofol, albuterol, midazolam, hydroxychloroquine, fentanyl, azithromycin and morphine, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The FDA, which has more stringent criteria for shortages, show 18 of 40 are on the Drug Shortage list.

Another 67 out of 156 critical acute drugs — including diazepam, phenobarbital, lidocaine and acetaminophen — are in short supply, the report said.

“Drug shortages can be a matter of life and death, and some shortages mean that a life-saving drug is not available to U.S. patients at any price,” the authors wrote.

“The urgency with the drug shortage supply issue is related directly to the major increase in COVID-19 cases that we will experience in the coming months,” Michael Osterholm, the director of CIDRAP, said in a news release.

“This, in turn, will dramatically increase the need for specific COVID-19 treatment drugs, while at the same, COVID-19 is having a major impact on two of the three key drug manufacturing areas of the world, India and Italy,” Osterholm added.

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The pandemic has “jolted the global pharmaceutical market at all levels and production points” and exacerbated a problem that dates back several decades, researchers said.

Closed factories, shipping delays or shutdowns and trade limitations or export bans have severely impacted the supply side of the chain, the analysis concluded, while the pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in the global demand for Covid-19 therapies.

The drug shortage problem in the US isn’t new and remain a “perennial problem,” the authors wrote.

There’s been more than 250 drug shortages over the past few years, the study said, “many for critical medications, including both acute drugs for treating emergency situations and chronic drugs for managing serious long-term conditions.”

The shortages have been tracked in the US since 2001, but in two decades, there’s been no significant improvement, according to CIDRAP.

“What makes the drug shortage such a challenging crisis is that no one organization or agency oversees this situation and responds accordingly, not even the FDA,” Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, the director of the PRIME Institute at the University of Minnesota and co-lead report investiagtor, said in a statement.

“And no one area of the country is specifically hit with this problem as drugs will be allocated to those areas most in need, that is until everyone is in shortage status. Then we will have a national crisis.”

The report also suggests recommendations for combating drug shortages, including creating a new federal entity to track, analyze, predict, prevent and mitigate drug shortages.

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A UPS exec reveals how the pressures of the pandemic can make drone deliveries a reality as it starts flying medical supplies, PPE, and medicine



a man riding on the back of a red building: UPS has launched two health care-related drone delivery trials during the pandemic. Courtesy of UPS


© Courtesy of UPS
UPS has launched two health care-related drone delivery trials during the pandemic. Courtesy of UPS

  • UPS, along with other delivery and logistics companies, is in a race to launch regular, commercial drone delivery systems.
  • In the past few months, UPS has begun pilot programs with CVS and a major hospital system, using drones to make deliveries and transport critical supplies.
  • In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, UPS’ VP of Advanced Technologies explained how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the use cases for drones.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The logistics industry has been buzzing about drone delivery for years, but aside from a few high-profile pilot programs and conceptual tests, the tech has failed to materialize as a real-world solution for moving goods.

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But drones are steadily coming closer to serving a practical use, according to Bala Ganesh, head of the Advanced Technologies Group at UPS.

“What we are right now in the process of, as we work through the integration pilot program with the FAA, is turn[ing] the corner to get to a more sustainable operation,” Ganesh told Business Insider during an exclusive interview at the IGNITION: Transportation summit this week. “What we’ve been in so far has been a test and learn journey.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the urgency of drone delivery — and highlighted its potential.

“The initial step for drones would be in this critical health care slash other industries that really require something urgently,” Ganesh said. “As the technology becomes more mature and costs go down,” he said, drones could be integrated into more routine purposes and deliveries.

UPS has launched two health care-related trials during the pandemic. One, at the Villages retirement community in Florida, delivers prescription medication to residents from a nearby CVS. The other, at the Wake Forest Baptist health system in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, offers fast shipping of time-sensitive medical supplies and PPE between the health system’s central campus and its other locations.

A key challenge to taking drone deliveries mainstream is the complex approvals needed from the FAA, as well as methods to avoid nearby air traffic. That, coupled with the difficulties of navigating around tall and dense development, makes it likely that drone deliveries will start out in rural and suburban areas, Ganesh said.

One of the most interesting use cases the company has explored, Ganesh said, is a “driver assist” system, in which each time the driver makes a delivery stop in a rural location, they launch the drone from the top of their truck and have it make the next delivery on the route. It would effectively double the number of deliveries a driver can make in a given time.

While drone delivery in cities is still something UPS plans to develop, that will likely come later, Ganesh said.

“There’s a lot of ideas” to solve the challenge of urban drone delivery, Ganesh said. “I’m sure that time will come,” he added, “but it may not

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