Manufacturing lapses and production shutdowns for contamination and other serious problems are behind many of the shortages, and there is no quick or easy fix for the problem.
Yet some gray marketers — who may not be licensed, authorized distributors — have used the crisis as a way to make lots of money by cornering the market on drugs in short supply and then offering them to desperate hospital pharmacists and cancer clinics at outrageous markups.
Currently, there are 268 prescription drugs in short supply in the U.S. That includes 34 new shortages reported this year, 204 that began in 2010 or 2011 and remain unresolved, and others that have persisted even longer, according to Erin R. Fox, manager of the University of Utah Drug Information Service, which tracks national drug shortages.
A report based on a survey last summer said that hospitals forced to buy crucial drugs from wholesalers outside their normal distribution chain were being charged markups averaging 650 percent. In one case, a drug for dangerously high blood pressure, normally priced at $25.90 per dose, was being offered to hospitals for $1,200.
Linda A. Johnson can be followed at http://twitter.com/LindaJ_onPharma
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.