Parents across the US are facing the struggles of a second winter without enough amoxicillin, the most prescribed antibiotic in the country. Liquid formulations of the drug, which are first-line treatments for children with strep throat, chest and sinus infections, and earaches, are still in short supply, according to the US Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortage database. This shortage is causing frustration for parents and pediatricians who are left searching for available stock or having to switch prescriptions to different antibiotics.
The shortage has been caused by several factors. Some manufacturers have not provided reasons for the shortfalls but are still producing the antibiotic on allocation, meaning their customers can only order a limited amount. Other manufacturers blame the shortfall on an increase in demand, low prices that drive manufacturers out of the market, manufacturing delays, or trouble sourcing raw materials.
The shortage of amoxicillin is not the worst-case scenario for drug shortages as doctors have other antibiotics they can prescribe. However, the underlying issue is the widespread drug shortages for reasonably essential medications that should be widely available. Antibiotics like amoxicillin are 42% more likely to be in shortage than other types of drugs. The root cause of these shortages is that these drugs are cheap and not profitable for manufacturers.
The FDA has limited authority to fix drug shortages as it does not manufacture drugs or have the power to require pharmaceutical companies to make more of a drug. The FDA sympathizes with those affected by shortages and is working closely with manufacturers and others in the supply chain to understand and mitigate the impact of increased demand for certain products. However, experts argue that what the US really needs is a person or office in government responsible for monitoring drug supplies and ensuring adequate availability of basic medicines when needed.
Proposed solutions to the drug shortage issue include creating a person or office in government responsible for monitoring the entire drug supply chain and providing drug companies with subsidies or financial incentives to produce inexpensive, necessary medications. Similar to how farmers receive subsidies to prevent food shortages, the same approach could be applied to the pharmaceutical industry to prevent drug shortages.