Ethan Mobley, MJLST Articles Editor
Access to life-saving prescription medication grabbed headlines after Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of its HIV drug, Daraprim, by about 5,000% overnight. While the Daraprim price hike initially appears to be driven by pure greed, it’s at least conceivable that basic economic principles of supply and demand may have played a minor role. Indeed, many other drugs have undergone serious price hikes arising from innocent supply constraints. While the defensibility of Daraprim price hikes remains uncertain, the story does bring to focus an issue affecting accessibility of hundreds of other life-saving prescription medications—drug supply shortages.
Drug shortages naturally restrict many patients’ ability to obtain life-saving medication, which can have disastrous effects. The Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology addressed the issue in 2013 with a note written by Eric Friske. Friske found that drug shortages are often caused by a “combination of perturbed supply, manufacturing capacity, and utilization.” Friske then analyzed the efficacy of proposed (and now failed) legislation meant to reduce these supply shortages by requiring manufacturers to notify the FDA of impending shortages; the legislation would have also allowed the FDA to collaborate with manufacturers in order to streamline production. However, Friske determined these tools were insufficient to properly combat the shortage problem and proposed his own solution. In addition to notification requirements, Friske pushed for affirmatively incentivizing manufacturers to produce certain drugs and streamlining the drug manufacturing approval process.
Since Friske’s proposal, we’ve seen new legislation and regulation that aims to reduce the number of drug shortages. What’s more, the legislation and regulations contain notification requirements, manufacturer incentives, and streamlined approval processes—just like Friske proposed. While it’s obvious the drug shortage problem has not been solved, it is equally clear drug shortages have decreased over the past few years. Hopefully the trend continues so that life-saving drugs remain accessible to everyone, and drug companies will no longer be able to use supply shortages as justification for obscene price hikes.