Image of different colored pills spilled onto a flat surface

The United States must fortify its pharmaceutical supply chain to avoid shortages of essential drugs when crises hit, according to a first-time report from the federal government.

The authors address vulnerabilities in 100-day supply chains for 143 key drugs. These weak points could cause shortages during a pandemic or extreme weather events, they found.

The report was issued by the U.S. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) in response to a February 2021 executive order spurred by pandemic experiences. As COVID-19 began to spread nationally, critical medicine shortages and distribution challenges directly affected patient care, the authors wrote.

“The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the vulnerabilities of the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain and how dramatically a crisis can impact its integrity,” they said.

Consultations with government health authorities, pharmaceutical industry and clinical care providers helped the authors to prioritize a list of essential medicines that can be targeted for action. The report details a plan that anticipates potential shortages.

Proposed strategies include reducing reliance on foreign sources of the key pharmaceuticals  by increasing onshore or nearshore production capacity; increasing supply chain coordination, security and capacity; improving purchasing and stockpiling efficiencies; and boosting manufacturing capabilities along with research and development.

“The reliable availability of these medicines can help to alleviate strains on hospital resources, resulting in more lives saved and improved patient care,” the authors wrote. 

“Essential Medicines Supply Chain and Manufacturing Resilience Assessment,” can be accessed via the ASPR website.

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