Drug shortages are nothing new. Pharmacists are regularly tasked with managing patient treatment plans and providing the best care based on available resources.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues have compounded the challenges drug shortages present. At the end of the second quarter of 2023, there were 309 drugs listed on ASHP’s drug shortage list. This number represents the most drugs on shortage in almost 10 years.
A recent survey conducted by the ASHP Drug Shortages Resource Center has shed light on the impact recent drug shortages have had on patient care.
In its survey, ASHP asked more than 1,000 pharmacists across a variety of work settings how drug shortages have impacted their facilities. Almost every respondent said shortages have negatively impacted their ability to provide patient care.
Furthermore, most respondents categorized the current state of drug availability as either moderately or critically impactful to patient care. Critically impactful is defined as rationing, delaying, or outright canceling treatments or procedures due to drug shortages.
Digging into the data around critically impactful drug shortages, it appears some of the most vulnerable patients are being hit the hardest. Almost 60 percent of respondents said shortages of chemotherapy drugs have been critically impactful to patient care.
There are multiple factors responsible for ongoing drug shortages, and there is not a quick or easy solution to resolve them.
When addressing the impact of drug shortages, focusing on the immediate needs facing patients is critical, but stepping back and recognizing the sweeping systemic changes necessary is a key step in addressing this issue long term.
One systemic problem to address is the impact of our industries on climate change.
The carbon footprints of the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries are large. The global biopharma industry’s carbon output is greater than the semi-conductor industry, the forestry and paper industry, and equal to about half the annual carbon emissions of the United Kingdom.
A recent report states only 4 percent of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are on track to meet Paris 2030 climate goals. In 2019, the pharmaceutical industry produced 28.55 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent for every $1 million it earned, which is greater than the automotive industry over the same period.
The effects of climate change not only directly impact health, but catastrophic environmental events (wildfires, floods, hurricanes, droughts, etc.) damage the infrastructure required to transport drugs along the supply chain, further impacting overall availability.
If adverse environmental events such as wind from hurricanes, smoke from wildfires, or road blockages from mudslides disrupt the means of transportation from maintaining supply chain integrity, it can create a significant bottleneck in the pharmaceutical supply chain.
As the pharmaceutical supply chain has become more diverse, more complex, and more sensitive, disruption at any point creates bottlenecks that may impact drug viability and efficacy and ultimately impact patient care.
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So, what can be done?
Our industries need to adapt. We need to reduce our overall environmental impact without negatively impacting the access to and outcomes of patient care. Broad industry-wide initiatives will be necessary to meet overall sustainability goals.
There are immediate steps individual facilities can take to support a reduction in the overall carbon footprint within the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.
One of those steps is transitioning to sustainable cold storage equipment. Doing so will reduce global warming potential and overall energy consumption. Facilities should choose equipment that meets standards outlined by programs such as ENERGY STAR® and EPA SNAP when making equipment decisions.
We published a white paper to provide insight into next generation cold storage technology. The paper outlines what advancements have been made, and how they deliver improved efficiency and sustainability without sacrificing performance.