Ongoing drug shortages have forced hospitals to rely on inexpensive generics, but cheaper medication can create problems all of their own.
Many common drugs, even generics that have been on the market for decades, have been in short supply due to their low prices, expired patents and shortages of raw material, according to Reuters. They include crucial drugs such as benzathine penicillin, which prevents transmission of syphilis from mother to child.
"Medicines can be too cheap," Hans Hogerzeil, professor of global health at Groningen University in the Netherlands and a former director for the World Health Organization (WHO), told Reuters. "For a viable market model you need at least three and preferably five different manufacturers."
Shortages can also cause other problems, such as counterfeit drugs entering the global market and potentially harming patients.
Partly as a result, the WHO has pushed for a global notification system for shortages, as well as minimum prices to ensure viable markets exist.
However even though dozens of products are in short supply in the United States, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, there has been the exact opposite problem in the country. Many hospitals have had to cope with skyrocketing drug prices by using notification software and other means to cut costs. Meanwhile, some companies have been buying the patents for old-line drugs and jacking up the prices by enormous amounts. Turing Pharmaceuticals did that recently with the drug Daraprim, which has been on the market since the early 1950s. The price hike brought Daraprim to $750 per pill.
The 50-fold plus price hike by Turing was so egregious that ExpressScripts recently intervened and offered a compounded version of Daraprim for $1 a pill.