Drug shortages are surprisingly common, and can affect all fields of health. That's because many medications come with a limited shelf life, expensive production costs, and fluctuating demand—all factors which can destabilize our pharmaceutical system.
"It surprises many people that in an economically affluent, technologically advanced and logistically connected country like ours that medication shortages could arise," says David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. However, he tells Best Life that there's ample opportunity for such shortages occur. Ours is a "just-in-time" system, he says—"rather than one that predicts supply needs, takes action to prevent shortages, and stores items 'just-in-case' demand suddenly increases."
In fact, at any given time, there may be hundreds of drug shortages affecting Americans. Read on to find out about four in-demand medications that are currently in a shortage, and how these changes could affect you.
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CT intravenous contrast dye
A computed tomography (CT) scan is a diagnostic imaging procedure that utilizes X-rays and computer technology to produce images of the inside of the body. Doctors use CT scans to look at bones, muscles, fat, organs, or blood vessels, and often enhance their view of these body parts using contrast dye.
In May, the medical world was buzzing with the news of a worldwide contrast dye shortage. "This arose because most of our supply came from a single GE Healthcare manufacturing facility in Shanghai, China," explains Cutler. "The facility was impacted by shutdowns triggered by the 'zero covid' policy in China," he told Best Life.
Though in June, the manufacturer returned to operating at 100 percent capacity, experts say there's still a lag in distribution in some places. "We are in triage mode," Manraj K.S. Heran, MD, a diagnostic and interventional neuroradiologist at Vancouver General Hospital said via Neurology Today on Aug. 18. "We are having to ration the use of contrast [dye] and select people on the basis of who is most urgent."
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Gentamicin for gonorrhea
Last July, the FDA reported a nationwide shortage of gentamicin sulfate injection, used as a treatment for uncomplicated cases of gonorrhea. Though this was resolved in the months that followed, the problem resurfaced this year on Aug. 11 due to increased demand and manufacturing delays.
However, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), the manufacturer Baxter is still manufacturing products of this type. Other manufacturers Fresenius Kabi and Pfizer estimate that they will return to normal manufacturing and distribution rates by October and December, respectively.
Ciprofloxacin eye drops and erythromycin eye ointment
Those with eye infections may also find that their medication is harder to come by, says Cutler. That's because two common types of eye medication used to treat bacterial conjunctivitis, ciprofloxacin eye drops and erythromycin eye ointment, are currently on the list of shortages.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that "Erythromycin 0.5% ophthalmic ointment is the only recommended regimen to prevent ophthalmia neonatorum caused by N. gonorrhoeae," an eye infection which can be passed from mother to baby during birth. "If erythromycin ointment is unavailable, infants at risk for exposure to N. gonorrhoeae, especially those born to a mother at risk for gonococcal infection or with no prenatal care, can be administered ceftriaxone." Speak with your doctor about prenatal screening and possible treatments if you are concerned about your risk.
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Sodium chloride injection supplies
In March of this year, hospitals began reporting a dire shortage of medical saline—a solution of sodium chloride and water—and the supplies needed to administer it to patients intravenously. This occurred during the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand outpaced production.
Though most shortages in this area have been resolved, there is still an ongoing shortage of vials, syringes, bags, irrigation, and certain concentrated formulations of sodium chloride, according to ASHP records. Contact your physician or pharmacist for more information on how these shortages may affect you.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.