Common prescription medications like Zoloft are still in short supply. How COVID-19 is causing drug shortages

·3 min read

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, there were limited supplies of select items, like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. But now, some common prescription medications are facing shortages in the United States, and experts are pointing the finger at the pandemic.

The U.S. is currently seeing shortages in a range of common prescription medications, including epinephrine auto-injectors (used to counteract severe allergic reactions), oral inhaler albuterol, antibiotics azithromycin and doxycycline, and the diuretic chlorothiazide, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication sertraline hydrochloride (Zoloft) has also been in shortage for months.

The U.S. is currently seeing shortages in a range of common prescription medications.(Photo by GEORGE FREY / AFP)
The U.S. is currently seeing shortages in a range of common prescription medications.(Photo by GEORGE FREY / AFP)

What’s going on here? In the case of Zoloft, the FDA simply says that the drug shortage issue is “due to the impacts caused by COVID-19.” The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists website also reports that there are some shortages of albuterol and azithromycin due to increased demand. That’s likely “due to COVID,” Emily R. Aboujaoude, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice and administration at the Rutgers Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, tells Yahoo Life.

But experts say issues with the other medications are likely tied to the pandemic as well. Robert Weber, administrator for pharmacy services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and assistant dean for Medical Center Affairs at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, tells Yahoo Life that the following are usually to blame for drug shortages happening now:

  • A shortage of the active pharmaceutical ingredient

  • Delays in getting the active pharmaceutical ingredient, either from other countries or from within the U.S.

  • Possible closures or delays due to COVID-19 spread in a plant or manufacturing facility

“Shortages can also be because there is increased use,” Jamie Alan, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Life, citing current shortages of antacids like Pepcid and famotidine to combat stomach issues as examples.

EpiPen, which has had a shortage spanning back to 2018, says that its issues are due to its manufacturing partner, a Pfizer company, which “continues to experience manufacturing challenges.” The shortage has gotten so bad that EpiPen, in association with the FDA, has even extended the expiration dates of some of its products.

Drug shortages aren’t unique to the pandemic — they happen all the time, Alan says. But COVID-19 hasn’t helped. “The pandemic only adds to reasons [for drug scarcity], making it likely that more drugs will be in shortage,” she says.

If you rely on a medication that’s experiencing a shortage, Weber recommends talking to your doctor about next steps. “There are many alternatives that are effective in response to those medications on the shortage list,” he says. If you happen to learn about your drug shortage at the pharmacy, you can even talk to the pharmacist about your options, Aboujaoude says. “Pharmacists often discuss with manufacturers and wholesalers when and how they can get these medications,” she says.

Also, keep in mind that just because a drug is experiencing a shortage doesn’t mean that you absolutely can’t get it. “Many of these drugs are still available, but might be hard to get in one area or another,” Alan says. “If you can't get the medication, have your pharmacy try to call another pharmacy to see if they have it in stock.” And, if that fails, she says that “it might be possible to get some via mail order.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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