GPOs Back Obama Order on Drug Shortages

John Commins, November 2, 2011

The American Hospital Association and two hospital group purchasing organizations say they support President Barack Obama's executive order this week to reduce the nation's prescription drug shortage.  

Steven Lucio, director for clinical pharmacy solutions at Novation, told HealthLeaders Media that the federal government really can't go much beyond the president's order. "This is a free market and that is what we have to understand. The government can't force drug companies to make products. Unless we want to change that -- and there is a lot of sensitivity these days about what it is practical for the government to do -- I don't think it can be done and I don't think it is appropriate."

Lucio says that the Food and Drug Administration now has only about four people in its drug shortage division monitoring anything from 178 to 211 drug shortages."Four people can't manage that," he said. 

While there have been calls to ease restrictions on importing prescription drugs that are in short supply, Lucio says that probably wouldn't work all that well. "The problem is you can't find it," he said.

"If there is a product to be found they will go and try to get it. It's just [that] we can't take all the medication from Europe. However, if the FDA has greater notifications maybe they can do something with a foreign government that would have more time to respond. "

The executive order calls on the FDA to:

  • Press drug manufacturers to report as far in advance as possible on the potential shortages or discontinued product;
  • Expedite regulatory review of drugs; and
  • Review "certain behaviors" by market participants that could include hoarding drugs and reselling them at exorbitant prices

"The shortage of prescription drugs drives up costs, leaves consumers vulnerable to price gouging and threatens our health and safety," Obama said Monday in prepared remarks. "This is a problem we can't wait to fix. That's why today, I am directing my administration to take steps to protect consumers from drug shortages, and I'm committed to working with Congress and industry to keep tackling this problem going forward."

Blair Childs, senior vice president of Public Affairs at Premier healthcare group purchasing organization says that providers shouldn't wait on the government to supply all the answers to the drug shortage problem.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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